Citizen science-Getting People Involved

Scientists tend to be clever people. That’s why they are scientists after all. But they can’t know everything. And they can’t be everywhere. Non-scientists can have different types of information that can be useful too. And there are a lot of them. The balancing of scientific and public knowledge is a topic of great current interest. We have seen this in studies being done in Seychelles that are seeking to recognize that the fishing communities here know a thing or two about the marine environment: where the fish stocks are and how many there are, for example. We ignore this kind of knowledge, experience and expertise at our peril.

Wildlife Club members conducting a river survey © T. Vel

Some time ago we mentioned the concept of ‘citizen science’. It’s a relatively new phenomenon, and one that will require active development in Seychelles. Our UK partner in BirdLife, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (or RSPB) has been something of a leading light in citizen science. But what does it mean? It basically involves the collecting of information by engaging the public’s involvement in survey and monitoring projects. In other words, you the public count the birds, plants, bugs or whatever it might be that you see, hear or find around you. Added together, this information, if collected and analyzed properly, can help to build a big picture of how things are out there.

Such projects are valuable tools for conservation of the environment in Seychelles for a variety of reasons, not least for the information they provide. Citizen science offers a number of advantages over more traditional research approaches, particularly in collecting large samples of data with a wide geographical spread. In Seychelles where most organisations complain about the lack of staff, it lends many extra pairs of hands. It also gets people interested, makes them feel involved, valued, trusted and listened to. It may also help them to learn, important in every life stage.

The RSPB’s work with citizen science in the UK has concentrated on birds in gardens and those actually nesting within participants' houses. The Homes for birds survey, which involved  over 10,000 citizens, highlighted the potential impact of modern housing design, building materials and new building regulations on birds. We have done something similar here, on a small, Seychelles scale, for the Katiti or Kestrel.

The Katiti Nest Box program allows young and old citizens to become more involved in understanding and conserving their wild heritage. Many times people see roosting or nesting Katiti as a problem. The challenge for the citizen science program is to turn that into a positive experience. Quite a few persons, schools and institutions are already taking part in this program.

Seychelles small population needn’t be a problem; in fact it is an asset. As long as we can get a representative spread of people involved, the information provided will be of value, in any survey or project. Several NGOs are doing this in other fields. The Wildlife Clubs already has good coverage through its network where the Stream Team program is underway. Perhaps the youngsters will show the way to getting more and more adults involved too.

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Since 1998.

Seychelles Nature, Green HealthClimate Change, Biodiversity Conservation & Sustainability Organisation

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Roche Caiman, Mahe

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Centre for Environment & Education

Roche Caiman,

P.O. Box 1310, Mahe, Seychelles

Tel:+ 248 2519090