By Ruby Pap

Students are seen collecting ecological data in the rocky intertidal zone for the OPIHI project. Photo courtesy of OPIHI

Students are seen collecting ecological data in the rocky intertidal zone for the OPIHI project. Photo courtesy of OPIHI

My dad once told me I don’t suffer fools gladly. After getting over the initial blow to my ego and the realization I am actually not the most patient person in the world, I dusted myself off and reflected about what perhaps he was really trying to say: That at my core, I am driven by knowledge seeking. And ignorance, especially within myself, makes me extremely queasy. Thanks, dad!

As such, the scientific topics I often pick for this column are motivated by a desire to dispel the spread of misinformation through the coconut wireless (as examples, see ‘Fukushima’ June 2015 and ‘Coral Disease’ June 2014). This often involves interviewing the professional scientists in the academic community. But recently, I realized it is time to give specific credit to the growing cohort of citizen scientists.

Photo courtesy of OPIHI

Photo courtesy of OPIHI

According to Dickinson and Bonney, in their book Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research, the term, ‘citizen science’ simply means public participation in organized research efforts. By that definition, there are thousands of them across the globe. This is by no means new. Some of the earliest documented efforts include volunteer bird surveys conducted in Europe in the 18th century and the famous Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, which started in 1900 and still takes place today.

With the onset of the Internet in the last few decades, there has been a dramatic increase in citizen science opportunities. Just a few examples from Kaua‘i include water quality monitoring with Surfrider Foundation, humpback whale counts with the marine sanctuary, and seasonal beach monitoring with Kaua‘i Community College.

From my general observations and reading of the literature, citizen science can have the dual benefit of providing scientific data and valuable education to the individual.