As the Director of a volunteer based citizen science project, I have been most gratified to see the status of programs like mine rise in recent years. Data collected by average people used to be largely dismissed as unreliable junk science. Fortunately, scientists seem to be gradually relinquishing this snobbery and finding uses for projects that used to be relegated to the sidelines. My project, the Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) is among the more rigorous programs out there, requiring regular trips to a designated beach year-round, and further requiring the handling of seabird carcasses in various phases of decomposition. We are always on the lookout for volunteers, so if you live anywhere near the Atlantic from Maine to Florida, we’ll take you.
If dead birds aren’t your thing, or if SEANET is too demanding, there are new citizen science opportunities cropping up all the time, many requiring nothing beyond sitting in a recliner near a window. Here are a few CitSci programs of variable commitment and grossness levels, though I admit, I have a bias toward programs surveying dead wild things. You will note this slant in the list below, which builds from low commitment and low grossness up to higher commitment and grossness levels.
1. Project Noah. I have mentioned this one in a previous post, but I like it. You can post pics of insects, plants or anything else you want identified from time to time, or you can record regular observations. You can also join “Missions” that range from Schoolyard BioBlitzes for teachers and students, to Urban Biodiversity Surveys for city dwellers spotting organisms on the way to work.
2. eBird. This one is similar to Project Noah in its customizable commitment levels. You can report a one-time sighting of a Bald Eagle that flew over your car, or you can report all the birds you see when walking a set route through a state park every week. eBird particularly values this latter kind of reporting, but they will take your one-off birds as well. Their website has some great mapping functions and data tools so you can explore what other people are seeing.
3. Wildlife Health Event Reporter. Another low commitment option. With this site, you can report any number of sick or dead wild creatures anywhere in the world. Scientists can dip into this wide-ranging data set and monitor for the early stages of wildlife die-offs. From a single chipmunk killed by a cat, to many pelicans washed up on the beach, WHER will take it.
4. ASC Roadkill Observations. Part of the iNaturalist family of projects, and many of them are not as gruesome. But my biking, walking and running friends may welcome the opportunity to report all those squashed snakes, squirrels and opossums that we’re always dodging. You may ask, “Why roadkill? That’s pretty morbid,” and it is. But by knowing where and what species are crossing (and dying), scientists and engineers can focus their efforts both before roads are constructed, or after, by siting things like wildlife bridges and tunnels where they will make the most difference.