The environmental focus of the Think Tank reflects the lengthy history of community-led environmental monitoring (e.g., though societies such as BirdsNZ and via community environmental groups). The Think Tank also grew out of the 3-yr Ministry for the Environment-funded ‘Environmental Restoration Meets Citizen Science’ project. Although enviro-centric initiatives continue to be a major component of citizen science in NZ (cue our freshwater, climate change and biodiversity crises), wider impacts include our cultural health and wellbeing.
A core purpose of the Think Tank is networking – spending time to bring each other up to speed with who is doing what, and what’s next. Participation in the Think Tank is flexible in line with availability, interest and relatedness to individual work-streams. As with previous meetings, it’s a cross-section of those ‘actively involved in cit sci’ and ‘with interest growing in cit sci’. Participating organisations for meeting #5 included Greater Wellington (Sheryl Miller, Senior Science Coordinator) DOC (Helen Kettles, Marine Technical Advisor), Ministry for the Environment (Charlotte Wood, Policy Analyst and Jessica Jennings, Science Analyst), community and NGO (Ben Knight, Chair of the Guardians of the Kāpiti Marine Reserve and Oliver Vetter, programmes manager for Sustainable Coastlines), as well as Canterbury University/independent contractor Shane Orchard and myself.
People and projects roundup
The revamped Stream Health and Monitoring and Assessment Kit is now at a stage where Sheryll Miller from Greater Wellington and Liz Gibson from Mountains to Sea Wellington can trial a water quality training module with farmers in the Wairarapa. Integrated catchment management and empowerment in decision-making form the wider context for this work. For the first time, community generated water quality data from around the country can be uploaded to an online database – nzwatercitizens. Education is ongoing: to strengthen community capacity, a Freshwater Hui is planned for June 7 in Lower Hutt, facilitated by Mountains to Sea Wellington.
Jessi Jennings is into the second year of managing (remotely) a seabed surveying project in Guernsey (Channel Islands), has experience in developing, implementing and managing marine citizen science projects in the UK, and has a keen interest in how citizen science is used in New Zealand. Databases are one key difference – see the comments under ‘fragmentation’. In the 2019 State of the Environment report, ecosystem health and biodiversity are threatened, and soil and water quality are declining across urban and rural landscapes. Charlotte Wood highlighted the broader opportunities for citizen science to fill data gaps while also enhancing public engagement with the NZ science system.
The expanding Estuaries Hub developed by Helen Kettles for DOC now features projects with a citizen science element such as Marine Meter square, monitoring inanga spawning sites and measuring king tide extent. With a focus on marine climate change, Helen is looking at citizen science programs that can inform and add value e.g., in Australia a new app has been developed to harness observations of season behaviour of plants and animals. There may be opportunities in the new Marine Sentinel Sites program, given the focus on research and monitoring.
Ben Knight and Nicole Miller provide the vital voices from the community given their close involvements with marine-based trusts (Nicole, not present for this meeting, is a trustee of the Friends of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve). Community organisation mobilise the community and act as key liaison points between govt agencies and the wider community, enhancing the transparency of information flows. Sustainable Coastline’s Oliver Vetter co-manages an ambitious citizen science project centring on community collected beach litter and classification. An app is currently being developed to help contain and sort data, which lead to a brief discussion on when and where tech can be most effective, and circumstances where pen and paper suffice.
Jessie highlighted the work of the National Biodiversity Network in the UK. The charity created to foster collaboration between wildlife conservation organisations, government and environmental agencies, local environmental records centres (e.g., The Biological Records Centre, est. 1964) and voluntary groups to exchange biodiversity information. In contrast, data in NZ are scattered and housed on multiple platforms with little or no interconnectivity. An example is NZwatercitizens (developed to house freshwater monitoring data collected using SHMAK), for example, currently remains separate from the Freshwater fish database. Additionally, quality assurance methods are yet to be addressed with data.
Sustaining citizen science at a national level: Forming an Association
The proposal to formalise citizen science networks into the Citizen Science Association of Aotearoa NZ (in line with international cit sci developments) has been mentioned in previous posts. Here’s a summary of discussion points raised at the Think Tank:
Build on existing materials: Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose
Thanks to the work of international associations, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel in NZ. Instead we can modify strategic documents (produced by the Australian Cit Sci Assn and in Germany), how to guides, evaluation materials to produce resources that address needs in NZ. The 10 Principles of citizen science are a valuable starting point for giving shape to the nature, scope and boundaries of citizen science in NZ.
Build and strengthen networks
A key need is for a funded coordinator (or two or three…) to help prioritise issues already identified and develop pathways for moving forward. At the same time a network of go-to people is needed, both across domains/themes e.g., Marine, Education as well as locality-based contacts e.g., for on-site advice. As one participant expressed: ‘recognised leads that can make things happen’ More decision-makers (e.g., government agencies and ministries) will be invited to join the table.
Citizen science is an ever-expanding field. The crises unfolding around biodiversity, freshwater and climate change provide the foundation for an increasing range of citizen science and science engagement activities currently underway. But applications for citizen science are far broader – health, disaster management, transport to name a few. Working, technical advisory or special interest groups can focus e.g., on data, applications of technology. Reporting findings back to the Association will be one step to move a critical topic forward.
Save the date
An agenda is being developed for the inaugural Citizen Science Assn of Aotearoa NZ meeting on August 10, Taranaki (venue TBC). Please make contact if you would like to attend.