Prof. Lars Bejder and Prof. Peter T. Madsen talk with participants in the community engagement event. Photo: Victor Alvarez
Welcome! This is the sixth of seven posts in our blog series: “Citizen science and social media impact of ecological research: Study on southern right whales in South West Australia“. In the blog series, we give a citizen science perspective of our collaborative study, with the Marine Bioacoustics Lab from University of Aarhus, Denmark, on southern right whales to help you understand the work done by marine biologists in the field. Please see bottom of this blog post for an overview of future blogs in the series. This sixth post explains the value of local community engagement events and how you can contribute to our citizen science initiatives. The overall aim of developing this blog series is to explore possibilities for communication of marine research activities and study the role of social media and citizen science in ecological research.
(6/7) Community engagement
Community engagement has traditionally been seen as a desirable extension or an “add-on” to the main goals of a research unit, such as funded projects, scientific publications, patents, student formation, etc. The value and need for engaging more broadly with the community is becoming more and more important. Community engagement is nowadays becoming a core part of many research projects and “social impact” is now one of the variables appointed by national agencies to measure the quality of research.
Our study on Southern Right Whales was the subject of a local presentation and open discussion in Augusta. Members of the research team explained the different aspects of the fieldwork to the community, and the participants could interact directly with the team and discuss first hand the research activities taking place in town.
During the presentation not only the scientists informed the local public, but the exchange of information worked also in both directions. There are aspects of the work, that are strongly linked to the location, that are better known by the local human population, i.e. attendees explained the team the direction of the currents in the bay, that helps to understand where the D-tags can be found.
From my personal perspective, the presentation in Augusta, with the direct participation of residents, is without doubt one of the most enjoyable and engaging forms of research communication I have experienced in over 10 years in academia.
What is Citizen Science?
Citizen science enables the possibility for any person to collaborate with a research team and be one of the “scientists” in the project. There are different ways in which a person can contribute, generally in the collection of data, but there are also opportunities for data analysis, communication and other volunteering work.
Research teams are starting to engage the public in citizen science, proposing activities and participation in such a way that any person can provide valuable information and contribute to the studies while they learn about wildlife in their local communities. Educational institutions worldwide are also starting to see citizen science as an opportunity to learn from extracurricular activities, facilitate students to develop practical skills and enable collaborative projects with a focus on current real world problems.
Citizen Science opportunities with MUCRU
MUCRU gives opportunities for contributing and engaging in citizen science for studies on Southern Right Whales and other marine species.
The Coastal Walkabout is a citizen science initiative (developed in collaboration with Duke University, GAIA Resources and Marine Ventures Foundation, that provides a social media app to share and discuss scientific observations within the coastal, estuarine and near-shore environments. The app is open access and free to download and use on mobile phones. More information here.
For students interested in contributing to Southern Right Whale study, it is also possible to help analysing the body condition of whales, using photographs and a script that partly automates the first step of the analysis process. In Augusta, a university biology student offered to volunteer in the study and contributed to the analysis conducted in Southern Right Whales.
The possibilities for citizen science are not limited to these two activities and MUCRU will continue exploring more options for community engagement. This blog can serve as an example, where researchers from two universities and also a local volunteer have contributed to communicate the research work in Augusta.
Thanks to the contributors to this post:
Michelle Keppel, Augusta
You can navigate through previous sections of the blog series via the below links:
- (I) The research location and its importance in the migration of southern right whales
- (II) Watching whales
- (III) How to attach, track and recover D-tags
- (IV) Using a drone to measure behaviour and health
- (V) Homework: downloading research data and getting ready for next day
- (VI) Informing and engaging the local community (this post)
- (VII) A first-person perspective of a student researching with MUCRU