Blog Post

Exploring Citizen Science for Conservation in Southern California

Among the various events in celebration of Citizen Science Day have been a number of Symposia. The one described here pre-dated #CitSciDay by a few months, but this post gives a sense of how a Symposium can create connections to invigorate citizen science research, partnerships, and participation. Many thanks to the Aquarium of the Pacific for sharing their reflections on this event. Have thoughts on a Citizen Science Day activity in your area? Get in touch!

 Post by Cassandra Davis, education volunteer coordinator, Aquarium of the Pacific
What role does citizen science play in the urban landscape of Southern California?
Over 100 citizen science organizers, participants, and experts convened in Long Beach, CA, to answer this question during the first Citizen Science for Conservation in Southern California Symposium. The symposium, hosted by the Aquarium of the Pacific and its Marine Conservation Research Institute (MCRI) on Saturday, February 20, 2016, brought together studies focused on land, air, and ocean issues, and provided the unique opportunity for citizen science participants to present their research in their own words.
A rich history and a bright future for Citizen Science
The conference started with a keynote presentation by Dr. Caren Cooper, assistant director of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who explored the history of citizen science research. Cooper brought attendees on a journey through the history of oceanography through citizen science, using the work of Matthew Fontaine Maury and William Whewell, who mapped the ocean in the 1800s. From empowering sailors navigating foreign oceans in the 1800s to empowering citizens in Flint, MI, to test their water quality in 2015, Cooper underscored how citizen science enables us to “remove our blindfolds.” Cooper’s keynote set the tone of the conference with her formula: “knowledge production + social capital = conservation & environmental justice.”
Citizen scientists presenting their work alongside program experts
Social capital was an important aspect of the conference, which incorporated the point of view of citizen scientists themselves. Conference attendees heard from active citizen scientists during lightning round presentations and a meet-and-greet poster session. From existing projects to new proposals, the citizen scientists presented alongside scientists and program managers. The lightning round presentations inspired new participation and networking among participants, while the poster sessions provided in-depth conversations between citizen science program participants, scientists, and program managers.
Sparking thought-provoking discussions
A combination of special session presentations and two panel discussions provided a sounding board for citizen science organizers and brought participants into critical discussions on engaging communities, overcoming challenges, building scientifically valid studies, and the role citizen science plays in inspiring public awareness and involvement in conservation. The panel discussions were moderated by Dr. Jennifer Lentz, citizen science programs coordinator at the Aquarium of the Pacific, and Sanden Totten, KPCC science reporter, sparking lively discussion, particularly around data quality and the value of citizen science in scientific practice.
Networking and community building for conservation and outreach
The conference brought to light the diversity and richness of urban citizen science research in Southern California. From discovering previously unknown bug species in backyards to documenting impacts of sea level rise, Southern California citizen science projects are exploring essential conservation questions and providing opportunities for direct science participation from citizens of all backgrounds and interest levels. Commitment levels for citizen scientists ranged from downloading the iNaturalist app to the extensive reef check citizen science ecodiver training. Participating organizations included the Ocean Science Trust, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, Heal the Bay, University of Southern California (USC) Sea Grant, the California Academy of Sciences, the California State Water Resources Control Board, the National Wildlife Federation, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
As citizen science opportunities and available technology continue to grow, creating dialogue between citizen scientists, program managers, and the multitude of program opportunities will be essential, particularly for the ecologically and scientifically rich urban communities in Southern California. A full report on the sessions can be downloaded here:

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