Earth Day is a celebration for this planet that we all call home and the natural world that makes our lives possible. Did you know that nature, and all the animals, birds, and bugs within it, are essential to life on Earth? From the ocean that provides half of our oxygen to the bees that pollinate the plants we eat, we couldn’t survive without healthy, functioning natural ecosystems.
Many people celebrate Earth Day by giving back to nature every April 22. For those of us who live on the road or travel extensively, it can be challenging to find a community group or event to join up with when we’re just passing through. This year, give back from wherever you are by joining a citizen science project.
Citizen scientists observe, collect, and sometimes analyze data in collaboration with a project run by professional scientists. You need not be a scientist (or a citizen!) to participate. Citizen scientists are like the eyes and the ears on the ground, contributing data that will help the pros do their jobs of looking for trends and patterns. And who has better eyes and ears on the ground than those who travel and camp in nature?
From tracking water levels to snapping a picture of that ladybug you found crawling on your camp chair, there are hundreds of citizen science projects just waiting for your observations. Many only take a few minutes, and some of them don’t even require that you go outside!
Here are six projects that you can do from wherever you find yourself this Earth Day.
In 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched the citizen science project “What’s Your Water Level?” This project asks the public to observe and share information on local water levels, especially during bigger weather events like king tides and flooding during storms. “Seeing elevated water levels will help us get a glimpse of our future with higher sea levels and will help planners and researchers protect homes, lives, and businesses,” says NOAA.
Submitting a water report is easy and quick. Get started here.
Have you ever seen a giant kelp forest? Often called the “Redwoods of the Sea,” giant kelp can grow up to 120 feet from the ocean floor, and they then spread out across the ocean’s surface, creating a forest canopy just like we see on land. They also harbor all sorts of awesome marine creatures, from tiny shrimp to sea otters. You can help researchers learn more about kelp around the globe without ever leaving your camper by contributing to the Floating Forest project, an initiative to identify and trace the outlines of kelp forests from satellite images.
Want to help save the whales? Citizen scientists are important “eyes on the water” in the Whale Alert community, which helps to reduce whale ship strikes by aggregating and reporting on whale sightings. Whale reports made via the app are overlaid on digital nautical charts, making current and predicted whale locations readily available to shipping and navigation companies. The app also allows you to report the location of a distressed or dead whale and alerts the proper response agency.
Budburst, a project of the Chicago Botanic Garden, utilizes citizen scientists to track the impact of our changing climate on plants and pollinators. You can participate in Budburst wherever you are — simply download the app and use it to identify and report on plants and pollinators that you see. Your data will be shared with climate scientists and researchers studying the impacts of climate change on habitats across the globe.
Did you know that over 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year? Marine Debris Tracker is an open data citizen science movement working to understand the “big picture view” of how debris and plastic pollution make their way to the sea. The research team is interested in debris near any water source—not just the ocean—to help them track how plastic pollution travels. To date, citizen scientists have recorded over 3.8 million items via Marine Debris Tracker.
Ladybugs in North America are stumping researchers. Species that were once common are now scarce, while elsewhere in the world, ladybug populations are increasing. Where have the ladybugs gone? How does it impact species that eat, or are eaten by, ladybugs? The Lost Ladybug Project invites citizen scientists to observe, photograph, and submit information about any ladybugs they see in North America. Can you think of a cuter citizen science project to join? Me neither.
Looking for a different project? Check out CitizenScience.gov!