When was the last time that you just stopped to take in everything that's going on around you in nature? The trees blooming, the animals coming out to enjoy the sun’s warmth, the wind blowing the scent of those spring flowers across the hiking path. As you get out to experience nature this spring, think about what you can do as a citizen scientist to help give back to your community and help those who track the cycles of nature.
What is citizen science, you ask? It’s a way for the public to participate in and help with scientific studies by providing research data. A large group of citizens documenting their observations of nature around them can provide much more information over time than a small group of scientists. For more information, check out Ranger Mac’s blog on citizen science here.
So what can you do to help? Below, Ranger Mac will look at 5 citizen scientist projects that you can take part in this season to help keep a good record of the environment growing around you:
Follow Monarch Butterflies
Monarch butterflies complete a migratory journey each year that can span up to 2,500 miles. There are some monarchs that migrate from Canada to Mexico. They migrate so far that some of the migrations cannot be completed in one generation! However, the impressive migration of these butterflies has become more and more threatened by human development as time goes on.
This citizen science project is beautiful to watch and can provide great information for organizations that want to keep track of how monarch butterflies are doing, such as Journey North. Simply take a journal and log your sightings of the monarch butterflies and native milkweed in your area. Report this information back to one of several organizations, so that they can add it to the research for these butterflies.
Watch Urban Birds
There are more birds in your urban area than just those pesky pigeons. Organizations like the Celebrate Urban Birds get residents in urban areas excited about nature, science, and all of the birds around them. As you sit out on your balcony or take a walk around the city park, log all of the different birds you see and report your findings to CUB!
Protect the Bumblebees
With this pesky but very important insect on the endangered species list, your research and findings are now more important than ever. Start a log on when you see bumblebees and what kinds of plants or other items you see them flying around. The information you log can be sent in to the Transcription Center at the National Museum of Natural History.
In addition to logging this information for future use, you can also plant a simple wildflower garden in the corner of your yard, or anywhere that’s away from where you gather or your kids play. This gives the bees a safe place to pollenate where they will not be bothered (or bother you).
Enjoy the Fireflies
Those childhood nights of chasing these magical bugs through the backyard are starting to become less and less frequent for recent generations. For some unknown reason, there are fewer fireflies dancing through the night sky than before.
Simply collecting data on where, when, and how many fireflies you see can be a great help in the research to find out why these magical bugs are slowly fading away. Take your data and turn it in to the Museum of Science in Boston to help them with their firefly project.
Test for Micro-Plastics
Did you know that many of our modern fabrics are filled with plastic? Sure, this make our clothing and linens soft, stretchy, and comfortable, but it's also negatively affecting the environment. Unless you are very particular about only using natural fibers, every time you do a load of laundry, you are releasing thousands of plastic microfibers. These microfibers make their way into the waterways that lead into the ocean and the fish we eat. They are also difficult to filter out of our drinking water.
There’s a Micro-plastics Program from Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation that's working to track these micro-plastics and slowly work towards a solution. You can help them in their cause by simply collecting small samples of water and submitting them to their research. No matter where you live, these water samples will help to determine what needs to be done next to help reduce the amount of small plastic particles making their way into our waters.
These are just a few ideas of what you can do on a small scale to help make a big difference. Simple citizen science projects don’t have to be time consuming or tedious. Just log what you see when you are out enjoying nature, and get your data to the right people to help keep our planet and the wildlife that inhabits it safe and healthy for years to come!