Technology facilitates ‘breakthrough age’ in citizen science

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Lindy Orwin pulls a longhorned beetle out of her purse in a petri dish. And he faked it on the table in front of me.

Clipped to My Phone is an essential tool in the citizen scientist’s armory—a macro lens that costs less than $30 but is powerful enough to show the insect’s spindly legs, dramatic antennae, and other finer body details.

Lindy’s husband, Randy, said earlier this year he was running a ‘Technology in the Field’ workshop. Australian Citizen Science Association Conference, such details may be critical for identification purposes.

If I stumbled upon this beetle in the wild, with a few taps, I could upload images to something. NaturalistsIt has garnered over 165 million views so far.

Lindy and Randy Orwin. Credit: Dennis Cullen

“(Naturalists) Randy, assistant director of instructional technologies at the Washington Information School, isn’t just something to upload your photos to.

“(It’s) a community where people who are incredibly passionate about a species have a search setting (so) any time you upload something that matches a family or a species of that species, they’re notified.

“And these people…go right in, and try to isolate those things.

It doesn’t always work. Recently, for example, he and Lindy took their drone underwater near their home in Queensland.

Citizen science still has a poor image in the wider scientific community.

Andy Ridley

“I found this weird thing at the bottom of Tin Can Bay, and I was like, ‘What in the world is this thing?'” says Randy.

Even after uploading video and still images Naturalists And one of the Sea Australia ID Facebook groups drew a blank.

“So I did a lot of research and came to the conclusion that what I’m seeing is something called an ‘upside down jellyfish’. I had never even heard of[him],” says Randy.

The practice of citizen science has exploded in recent years, with Naturalists It doubles alone Number of spectators and participants every year since 2012. Other popular nature-based platforms include Ibird, FrogID And Fungimap.

But citizen science has an image problem with the wider scientific community, says Cairns-based CEO Andy Ridley. Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef And the former leader of the international movement Earth Hour.

A woman on a Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef t-shirt working on a boat
One of the citizens of the Great Barrier Reef is the annual Great Reef Census. Credit: Citizens of GBR

“Citizen science is still not recognized the way I think it should be,” Ridley told more than 150 delegates at the ACSA conference.

“My deep belief — and I saw it at Earth Hour — is that you can mobilize billions of people if you want to, but we need to be taken more seriously as an innovation, not as an “oh, that’s cool,” he said.

One of the organization’s key projects is the Annual. Great reef countI attended two years ago.

The census involves snorkelers, divers and various citizen scientists jumping into the water with GoPros and taking pictures of individual coral reefs.

The snapshots are later analyzed by a team of 6,500 citizen scientists from more than 60 countries, with the data used to inform decision-making about where to allocate resources and restoration efforts on the reef.

To date, less than one-fifth (17%) of the reefs in the Great Barrier Reef have been surveyed, although 105,963 survey images have been collected.

But working with citizen scientists is not without its challenges, Ridley admits.

You might be gung-ho about taking survey photos while underwater, but run out of steam when it’s time to do some snapping.

A woman in a wetsuit dives on a reef with a camera in hand.
The Great Reef Census involves snorkelers, divers and various citizen scientists jumping into the water with GoPros and taking pictures of individual coral reefs. Credit: Citizens of GBR

“If you’re trying to get photos of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the biggest challenges — whether it’s your dive instructors, or your tourists, or your officials, or whoever — is actually trying to get the images out of the cameras. It’s hard work,” he explains.

“People can get the photos, but when they get home they go to the pub, or they go and see their families, and they never see the pictures.”

(I feel guilty when I remember to go to the bar for sunset cocktails instead of my laptop.)

[Citizen science is] At the beginning of an era of development that could revolutionize what we can do.

Andy Ridley

To address this universal problem, Ridley’s team has teamed up with Dell Technologies, Intel and the University of Queensland to deliver ‘edge devices’ that are heat and saltwater resistant and can be deployed on a variety of boats. .

When Citizen Scientist surveyors are out on the water, they can upload their catch directly to an edge device.

“(The boat) may be a long way away, but when it comes back into range, it will immediately upload (the images),” Ridley explained.

When it comes to analyzing the uploaded images, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef has added AI-powered tools to categorize corals in individual images in seconds instead of seven-minutes – with high accuracy.

“We want the science to be rigorous,” says Ridley.

Using these and other technologies, he added, citizen science was “at the beginning of an era of potential change in what we can do.”

A photo of a laptop with loads of reef photos loaded.
So far 105,963 survey images have been collected in the Great Reef Census. Credit: Citizens of GBR

But among the criticisms of citizen science are that ‘amateur’ observations lack rigor, as different observers have different abilities to identify species, which can affect the reliability of their data.

Paper Published earlier this year Citizen Science: Theory and Practice While citizen science can generate large amounts of data, “much of the reluctance associated with the use of citizen science data in the scientific community involves uncertainty about its accuracy,” he said.

However, Randy Orwin challenges this idea by pointing to a paper published in People and nature Across all free automated plant identification applications, 85% of images were correctly identified in the top five suggestions, and 69% were correct in the first suggestion.

“It’s not so much the accuracy of their observations — what they’re finding (that) is the issue with the accuracy of the GPS location and how inconsistent it is,” Randy says.

For this reason, part of the workshop covered how citizen scientists can work with cell phones, GPS units, and DSLR cameras to improve the accuracy of their observations.

The importance of observations increased significantly by geographic location – and provided strong evidence to support protected species.

Citizen scientists are so passionate that we have good longitudinal data over a long period of time.

Randy Orwin

Randy pointed out A recent issue An Illawarra property developer has dismissed reports of 20-year-old citizen scientists about platypuses in local waterways as “unreliable”.

One woman, angered by the developer’s claim that “no platypuses have been found or found any tangible evidence of habitat within the length of the Macquarie rivulet in the study area”, used her mobile phone to film one of the animals. The bridge of constructive thought.

The developer is taking Shellharbour Council to the Land and Environment Court (LEC) after plans to build the bridge and build 227 homes were rejected.

“Citizen scientists are so passionate that we have good long-term data over a long period of time,” Randy says.

They do it because they love doing it, and they care deeply about the environment.

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