While on a boat, looking for whales and dolphins, you are a scientist. While scuba diving in B.C.’s emerald green waters, admiring the world underwater, you are a scientist. While walking along the shores of a lake or river, bending over to pick up some plastic forks and candy wrappers, you are again a scientist.
Being a scientist no longer requires a university degree and practice in experimental settings. You can count the birds in your backyard, help classify galaxies and, in the process, even discover mysterious objects in space never seen or described before. You can become a citizen scientist.
Citizen scientists help researchers. In the past, what we could know was limited by the data we could get. With the advent of new technologies, scientists are now gathering huge amounts of data, and they need the help of people like us to make sense of it all. We can listen to people laughing, play games or take photographs and become an important part of a scientific discovery.
Since 1956, Vancouver Aquarium researchers have been making discoveries by conducting studies of habitats and animals in the wild and on-site. Part of our research includes the annual rockfish abundance survey and lingcod egg mass survey to determine if threatened fish species are beginning to repopulate, and whether they are having difficulty recovering in the wild. Both of these surveys require divers to gather information about these fishes. Oftentimes, the information needed is as simple as taking a photograph! Photographs of rockfishes allow researchers to determine size, age and species information.
Not all of the citizen science programs require divers – the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Program asks people who observe any whales and dolphins (cetaceans) and sea turtles off the coast to report their sightings and send in their pictures. This information tells us about the distribution and abundance of these animal species, which is the key to both understanding the status of the species (extinct/threatened), and whether the status of the population is improving, steady or declining.
The largest citizen science program run by the Vancouver Aquarium is the Great Canada Shoreline Cleanup, which started as an informal staff cleanup in 1994. The Shoreline Cleanup provides all Canadians the opportunity to make a difference in their local communities. The collected information raises awareness regarding marine debris, identifies hotspots for garbage, documents unusual trash events and informs policy solutions.
By walking on the beach, scanning the surface of the water and diving beneath the waves – you may see something that no one else has before. By submitting your observations and collaborating together, we can help researchers understand the bigger picture and work to protect the incredible animals that call B.C. and Canada home.
Learn about the Vancouver Aquarium citizen science programs on-site from August 24th to September 1st in the Teck Engagement gallery. Aquarium volunteers will help guide you through your own underwater dive adventure to support the lingcod egg mass and rockfish abundance surveys, take you on a mini whale-watching tour to learn about the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, and compare your weight to some of the trash cleaned up off B.C. beaches as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.