Citizen Science on the World Environment Day

Citizen Science projects today are activities sponsored by a wide variety of organizations in which specialists and ordinary people can contribute in different ways to scientific research
File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
05/06/2017
12:02
Berenice González Durand
Mexico City
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Some of the most important documents in the history of science are safeguarded at Cambridge University. There are three-centuries-old archives of the legendary Greenwich Observatory, Isaac Newton documents, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible and Darwin's correspondence. These last documents can be considered the first great effort of Citizen Science recorded in history. The naturalist exchanged mail with more than two thousand people throughout his life. He was aware that, in order to look at the whole world and give life to his theories, he would need many allies. Among the letters that Darwin received and which fed his investigations were those of other naturalists, diplomats, relatives, clergymen, gardeners, and even pigeon-keepers.

Citizen Science projects today are activities sponsored by a wide variety of organizations in which specialists and ordinary people can contribute in different ways to scientific research. Activities range from transcribing observations that strengthen counts and characteristics of different bird species or plants in rural or urban areas to more specialized activities such as registering water quality data to assess local bodies of water.

Studies in which voluntary participation is essential for the study of the environment are becoming increasingly evident. Last year, hundreds of people toured northern Kenya in search of the Grevy zebra (Equus grevyi) listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an endangered species since 1986. Volunteers photographed the unique distinctive stripes of about 2,000 specimens and sent them along with their GPS coordinates. This allowed scientists to determine the age and location of 80% of the Kenyan population of this animal, the largest in the world.

It is estimated that in the world there are over a thousand citizen science projects with global scope. The use of tablets and smartphones have facilitated the work of citizen scientists. In Mexico, according to the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) records, there are more than 21 thousand people registered to become naturalists. To date, 18 thousand 521 species have been registered this way throughout the country through 443 thousand 911 observations. In the case of the bird watching project, called aVerAves (see birds), there are more than 6 thousand users and 3 million bird registrations in Mexico. Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas are the states with the highest number of lists.

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