Citizen science driven big data collection requires improved and inclusive societal engagement
journal contributionposted on 2021-05-01, 00:00 authored by Oli DalbyOli Dalby, I Sinha, R K F Unsworth, L J McKenzie, B L Jones, L C Cullen-Unsworth
Marine ecosystems are in a state of crisis worldwide due to anthropogenic stressors, exacerbated by generally diminished ocean literacy. In other sectors, big data and technological advances are opening our horizons towards improved knowledge and understanding. In the marine environment the opportunities afforded by big data and new technologies are limited by a lack of available empirical data on habitats, species, and their ecology. This limits our ability to manage these systems due to poor understanding of the processes driving loss and recovery. For improved chances of achieving sustainable marine systems, detailed local data is required that can be connected regionally and globally. Citizen Science (CS) is a potential tool for monitoring and conserving marine ecosystems, particularly in the case of shallow nearshore habitats, however, limited understanding exists as to the effectiveness of CS programmes in engaging the general public or their capacity to collect marine big data. This study aims to understand and identify pathways for improved engagement of citizen scientists. We investigated the motivations and barriers to engagement of participants in CS using two major global seagrass CS programmes. Programme participants were primarily researchers in seagrass science or similar fields which speak to a more general problem of exclusivity across CS. Altruistic motivations were demonstrated, whilst deterrence was associated with poor project organisation and a lack of awareness of specified systems and associated CS projects. Knowledge of seagrass ecosystems from existing participants was high and gains because of participation consequently minimal. For marine CS projects to support big data, we need to expand and diversify their current user base. We suggest enhanced outreach to stakeholders using cooperatively identified ecological questions, for example situated within the context of maintaining local ecosystem services. Dissemination of information should be completed with a variety of media types and should stress the potential for knowledge transfer, novel social interactions, and stewardship of local environments. Although our research confirms the potential for CS to foster enhanced collection of big data for improved marine conservation and management, we illustrate the need to improve and expand approaches to user engagement to reach required data targets.