February 2013

Scientists Among Us: Consider Becoming a Citizen Scientist

Did you ever fancy yourself a scientist? Citizen science is booming. You can be part of the movement.

Whether it’s eyeballing birds, spotting salamanders, identifying and counting aquatic bugs or gauging stream water quality and flow — there is an increasing and ardent need for citizens to participate in science. Citizen science refers to scientific research performed by amateur or non-professional scientists as part of an overall project or data collection effort.

Participation can be as simple as sending a picture of a certain organism to a centralized database with basic information, to gathering water samples, to providing fish stomachs to be analyzed as part of a scientific study.

According to Mary Bohling, Michigan Sea Grant extension educator, volunteer citizen scientists can provide the manpower and legwork that enables researchers to carryout large-scale projects that might otherwise be impossible.

“For some projects, the sheer scope and time needed to gather data would be prohibitive if it weren’t for citizen scientists,” she said. “Considering the hours needed to gather the data and then analyze and report on it, scientists and other professionals need the help,” she said.

*Follow Mary’s article series on citizen science opportunities.

It is not just the scientists that benefit. Being a citizen scientist can be rewarding for volunteers as they gain hands-on experience, network with potential future employers, learn about ecological principles and procedures, and contribute to projects that tackle complicated environmental problems. Many volunteers welcome the opportunity to be outside and participate in fieldwork.

What to expect

Volunteer opportunities can include assisting with data collection or data entry, making field observations, monitoring and other testing. Volunteering can range from a few hours to long-term project, spread out over months or years, and can be performed in a large work group or as an individual.

For example, the Michigan Herp Atlas Program seeks help from people who observe reptiles and amphibians in their natural habitats in Michigan. An observer of a salamander or a particular species of frog is asked to report information surrounding the sighting. Although it is not required, observers are asked to identify various species of amphibians and reptiles found in Michigan or take a clear photograph of the observed animal.

Skills needed by volunteers also vary. Some require advanced skills learned through college courses or professional experience; however, most opportunities provide training or require no special skills.

The data gathered by citizen scientists is often used to determine management strategies, understand wildlife populations and gauge water quality. Becoming a citizen scientist also means taking a more active role in natural resource decisions and engaging with the surrounding world — the benefits of which are many.

Get Involved

How much time do you want to dedicate to volunteering? What special skills do you have that might be beneficial? Start by asking yourself a few questions and determining your interests. To find potential opportunities, contact local environmental groups, nature centers, parks and government agencies. Talk with the staff about what your passions are, what types of opportunities they have available, and how the information will be used.

Opportunity Knocks

Michigan Sea Grant works with many organizations that rely upon citizens to help collect data that report on the status of the Great Lakes and water bodies in Michigan. For those interested in volunteering as a citizen scientist around the state, start with:

  • MiCorps – The Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps) is a network of volunteer monitoring programs in Michigan. It was created through the state to collect and share water quality data for use in water resources management and protection programs.
    See: MiCorps
  • Watershed Councils – Watershed councils throughout the state usually offer many volunteer opportunities. For example, the Huron River, the Clinton River, the Kalamazoo River and the Tip of the Mitt Watershed councils — and many others — offer fantastic year-round volunteer opportunities.
  • Inland Seas Education Association – Inland Seas is an organization devoted to teaching students of all ages about the science, history and spirit of the Great Lakes. They have many volunteer opportunities, including several citizen-science focused efforts.
    See: ISEA
  • Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative – Geared more toward formal education, this initiative has regional hubs throughout the state that help partner classrooms with natural resources professionals and scientists. The students perform stewardship activities while working with professionals in the field.
    See: GLSI

Think Local, Act Global

There are many citizen science efforts in place around the region and country, as well as the world. The Scientific American magazine has a great list.
See: Projects

Upcoming Events

Great Lakes Conference

Michigan State University will host a Great Lakes Conference as part of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Week. The conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.

The conference will address some key topic areas and highlight a variety of the latest research, management and educational efforts being developed to assess Great Lakes issues.

Although the conference is free and open to the public, advanced registration is required by March 1.


Storm Water Management and Marinas

Marinas, boaters and other stakeholders are invited to learn about best stormwater management practices during the Clean Marina Webinar from noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12.

This is the fourth event in a series of Clean Marina webinars led by Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs as part of the Green Marina Education and Outreach project.

Attendees will learn about:

  • Potential environmental impacts of stormwater
  • State requirements and online resources for Great Lakes marinas and boatyards
  • Best practices for managing stormwater at marinas and boatyards
  • Examples of stormwater treatment options at marinas and boatyards

The webinar is free, but you must register in advance.

News Briefs

Great Lakes Bowl

This year’s Great Lakes regional competition of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) was held Saturday, Feb. 9 at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. Students from the college worked together with Michigan Sea Grant to organize the event.

The Great Lakes contest is one of 25 regional competitions held every February that make up the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. This year, schools from Michigan and Ohio participated. Greenhills High School from Ann Arbor won the competition. The student team will head to Milwaukee in April to compete in the national finals competition.

To learn more, see: Great Lakes Echo Story

Learning about Sturgeon

A new Great Lakes sturgeon science website features the research of an MSU team of fisheries scientists and the threatened lake sturgeon of northern Michigan.

Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, in partnership with Michigan Sea Grant, MDNR and others, have launched a Great Lakes sturgeon education website designed to bring real-world fisheries science and research to educators and youth.

The website includes lessons on math, science, English and language arts, social studies, history and technology.

See: Full Story


Looking at Lampreys

How many whitefish survive lamprey attacks? Can a natural repellant keep lampreys from spawning in certain areas? At the recent Michigan Fish Producers Association Annual Conference in Traverse City, Michigan Sea Grant conducted a daylong educational workshop that addressed such questions.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist David Carofinno discussed research on interactions between lake whitefish and sea lamprey. Although widely studied for lake trout, the probability that a lake whitefish will survive a sea lamprey attack has only been addressed in a single study.

Jason Bals, of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at MSU, presented on efforts to control one of the most destructive invasive species in the Great Lakes. He is working with other MSU researchers to complete large-scale field tests of sea lamprey repellents.

See: Whitefish Survival | Lamprey Repellent


Charter Captain Training Online

The Michigan Charter Boat Association annual meeting addressed a number of issues that affect captains, including the Michigan Catch & Cook program and U.S. Coast Guard relicensing process.

For those who missed the meeting, several presentations were recorded and posted online by Michigan Sea Grant. These presentations, including training videos, are now available at the Michigan’s Charter Boat Industry playlist on Michigan Sea Grant’s YouTube channel.

See: Training Videos