Citizen science projects give tourists a chance to give back to nature

From counting koalas on Kangaroo Island to spotting whale sharks in the Indian Ocean, citizen science projects are taking off around the world as the general public takes the chance to volunteer to use mobile phone and web-based data collection to help vital conservation and ecology initiatives while enjoying nature.

Flinders University researchers leading a federally funded ‘Passport to Recovery’ citizen science project on Kangaroo Island in South Australia will use more innovative approaches to expand their project this year, and in 2024.

“Our new study not only involves a suite of different citizen science projects but primarily focuses on utilising tourists rather than community or volunteer groups in these projects,” says Flinders University researcher Dr Gareth Butler, who studies sustainable tourism development and community engagement strategies.

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“Tourists’ and the tourism industry’s participation in citizen science is growing and producing some impactful data on threatened or endangered wildlife in parks and remote locations, and even about marine environments from recreational SCUBA enthusiasts,” he says after publishing a new research article in the Journal of Environmental Management.

“While some challenges persist with regard to data sampling, data quality and geographical coverage, we are seeing an increasing effort to use tourists in citizen science projects to support environmental management or conservation goals.

“In fact, we can see potential for ‘citizen science tourism’ to foster even broader awareness of environmental issues, including regenerative tourism experiences for domestic and international tourists.”

Flinders University Professor Karen Burke da Silva, who leads the Passport to Recovery (P2R) project and previously the ‘Finding Nemo’ project on the Great Barrier Reef, says the prevalence and popularity of citizen science has grown in recent years – with scientists, research institutes, government and not-for-profit organisations call upon civilians to help collect data from the field.

“With climate change and community awareness growing, people are more willing to take part in science-driven research to play a role in this important scientific monitoring and ecology and biodiversity investigations.

“As well as tourists, we have involved local businesses and the Kangaroo Island community to get involved in the P2R project, which adds more benefits to the post-bushfire recovery efforts there.”

Benefits of inviting the public to take part include the personal growth of citizens who take part, enhanced scientific knowledge and cost savings from more participation, and development of social capital.

IMAGE CREDIT: SA Tourism Commission

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