Citizen Science of the Deep Blue Sea
By Caren Cooper
For centuries, the lives of sailors were full of risks from shipwreck by storms, currents, and navigation of poorly charted waters. Sailors believed in jinxes from cutting hair, trimming nails, or shaving beards, stirring tea with a knife or fork, and 13 was uttered as 12+1. Sailors had good luck superstitions too, like being followed by dolphins or seeing an albatross.
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The Risks Of The Blue Sea
For centuries, the lives of sailors were full of risks from shipwreck by storms, currents, and navigation of poorly charted waters.
To cope with the risk, sailors believed in numerous omens that brought bad luck, like sharks and bananas or failing to set sail on a Sunday (or setting sail on a Thursday, Friday, first Monday in April, or second Monday in August). Sailors believed in jinxes from cutting hair, trimming nails, or shaving beards, stirring tea with a knife or fork, and 13 was uttered as 12+1. Sailors had good luck superstitions too, like being followed by dolphins or seeing an albatross.
The Siren, by John William Waterhouse (circa 1900), depicted as a fish-chimera.
The Root Of All The Risks
They may have felt helpless and at the whim of the high seas, but sailors did possess the capacity to reduce their risks, not through superstitions, but through science.
With the help of Matthew Maury, the observations, records, and data collected by sailors during their journeys were aggregated to produce navigation maps of trade wind, thermal charts, and prevailing currents. The root of their risk was a lack of scientific understanding of the oceans. Citizen science and crowdsourcing approaches made Maury the father of Oceanography and made travel by Navy and commercial mariners saver, faster, and more efficient.
Changes Over Time
Today recreational fishers, commercial fishers, divers, beachcombers, surfers, sailors, and local community members concerned about marine resources are citizen scientists monitoring oceans and marine life.
Whether turtles, sharks, dolphins, whales, invasive fish and seaweed, scallops, coral,seabirds, or pollution, citizen scientists across the world provide the large scale and long term data on different stressors to help research, management, and policy.
Even without getting wet, participants in the Zooniverse help marine sciences with identifying species on sea floor in Sea Floor Explorer, identifying plankton species from microscopic images in Plankton Portal, and estimating changes in kelp forests from satellite images in Floating Forests.
Large Scale At Low Cost
Citizen scientists help with research, management plans, and provide evidence for marine policy, which requires years of data over wide geographic areas, as reviewed in recent policy paper by Hyder et al.(@kieranhyder).
“Large scale at low cost” is citizen science’s middle name.
Join the next #CitSciChat, a Twitter chat for discussion of citizen science, which will have the theme of oceans and marine life. Wednesday June 24 at 7pm GMT, which is 2pm ET at the hashtag #CitSciChat. Our guest panelists sail in Maury’s wake by supporting citizen science that helps makes us safer. In this case, safety resides in ocean conservation, to which our future is intertwined.
I’m the moderator (@CoopSciScoop) and you can follow our guest panelists (details below), who are joining us from the California, Western Australia, Hawaii, and the United Kingdom.
J Nichols (@WallaceJNichols) of California Academy of Sciences, Grupo Tortuguero (an international sea turtle conservation network), and LiVBLUE!, a global campaign based on the neuroconservation findings of the cognitive and emotional benefits of blue space. Nichols is author of Blue Mind.
Catalina López-Sagástegui (@Catlosa_), program coordinator for the Upper Gulf of California Program at UC MEXUS, where she coordinates government officials, NGOs, local communities, and fishermen on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border to design effective conservation and fisheries management.
Analyzing The Deeps
Analyzing The Deeps
Richard Kirby (@planktonpundit) of the Secchi Disk Study to map the spatial distribution and temporal trends in phytoplankton in the oceans.
Phytoplankton are too small to see with the naked eye, but when present, they turn the water a green hue and their density affects the clarity of the water. Volunteers measure water clarity with Secchi Disks as proxy for phytoplankton density.
Michael Burgess (@RedmapMarine) of REDMap (Range Extension Database & Mapping Project), which the eBird of the marine world, to report sightings of any marine animal, anywhere, anytime (though they focus on the distribution of uncommon species).
Learning About Life
Matt Cough of Welsh Sea Watch (@WelshSeaWatcher) where bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoise, Risso’s dolphins, common dolphins, minke whales, fin whales, and killer whales are monitored by volunteers on land and with boat-based surveys.
Mike Bear (@Rapturedeep) of Ocean Sanctuaries, sponsor of the Yukon Marine Life Survey, which does not involve diving near Yukon, Alaska. It involves divers taking photos of invertebrates around the artificial reef created in 2000 by the purchase, cleaning, and intentional sinking of the Canadian warship Yukon. This artificial reef attracts marine life, tourists, and citizen scientists to San Diego. It was surveyed in 2004 and now 2015 is a follow-up survey year.