April 2021 is Global Citizen Science Month

April 2021 is Global Citizen Science Month – an annual event that shines a light on the efforts of volunteers everywhere that are engaging in data gathering and monitoring of our environment to solve scientific problems.

An example of a citizen science project is the Marine Debris Tracker Project. In operation for over a decade, the project engages global citizen scientists making use of an app to aid data to gather and monitor marine litter to inform upstream solutions, like container deposit schemes. Data is actively used by over 25 organisations globally, including locally in Australia.

What is Citizen Science?

According to the Australian Citizen Science Association, citizen science is an activity and global movement that involves the collection and analysis of data for science. Activities and information recording are performed by citizens, to assist in the development of meaningful bodies of data to aid scientists and field experts to achieve scientific goals and inform projects. In many instances, the body of data needed at scale cannot be developed without the involvement of citizen scientists. This makes sense when so many of our global problems need global solutions.

Citizen science involves public participation and collaboration in scientific research with the aim to increase scientific knowledge. It harnesses community skills, passion, and enthusiasm to fuel the capacity of science to answer our questions about the world and how it works.

April 2021 is Global Citizen Science Month – building innovation within Community

Citizen Science Month, held every April, is a month-long celebration of citizen science, where volunteers from all walks of life get involved in research by collecting data, analyzing results, and helping solve some of the biggest problems in science. It is the perfect time to explore projects that have meaning to you and your community.

Citizen science is accessible to all ages, with many tools available to aid parents’ and teachers’ engagement with children from a young age to be aware and informed about their surroundings. Citizen science does not focus on the natural environment only, it also looks at big questions about our world in relation to human impact on both the built and natural environment. Litter and marine debris and plastics pollution in the ocean is a problem humanity now faces that requires a global solution – this is where citizen science has a role to play.

The Marine Debris Tracker Project – over a decade of Citizen Science!

The Marine Debris Tracker Project is a citizen science initiative that originated in Georgia in the USA. The project targets litter found across the globe, including Australia. When reckoning such a global issue as marine litter and plastics pollution, the body of data required to develop innovative upstream solutions is sizable and could not be developed without the involvement of citizen science! With over a decade of data now available through the project informing over 25 organisations across the globe, even Australia premier scientific research organisation, the CSIRO has made use of the tool and information gathered through volunteers to inform research projects.

Due to a considerable citizen science effort, the project was expanded in 2010 with the development of the Debris Tracker App through a collaboration between the United States of America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Georgia College of Engineering, and Morgan Stanley in partnership with National Geographic.

The Marine Debris App is a simple platform helping citizen scientists, including students from the age of 13, across the globe answer some key questions about the litter they are identifying when out in the natural and built environment:

  • What is it?

  • How did it get there?

  • What can we do about it?

The app provides readily available data for organisations that are investigating marine litter and managing plastics pollution worldwide. The information gathered by citizen scientists has aided policy and legislation development and inspired upstream solutions to manage land-based litter, like container deposit schemes.

To date, almost 4,000,000 items have been collected with an estimated annual weight of 8 million MT!

This quantity of individually counted items of litter and the volume of marine litter in the ocean has been confirmed through research published in The Conversation, published in 2015.

Citizen science informing container deposit scheme research

The data collected through the Debris Tracker by global citizen science volunteers have aided research conducted by the Australian Government scientific research agency, the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), in 2018 that examined marine debris in the United States of America and Australia and concluded on land solutions, like container deposit schemes are a trigger to reduce not just marine litter, but terrestrial litter also.

Coastlines in both countries were assessed and findings demonstrated that land-based littered beverage containers were 1.6 times more prevalent in locations that did not have a container deposit scheme. This concluded that in the United States alone if all coastal states only implemented a container deposit scheme, there would be a reduction of 6.6 million drink containers on the shores. This does not take into account the flow-on impacts of overall litter reduction when a considerably visible litter item is removed from pollution.

The CSIRO research paper concluded that marine debris and plastics pollution does not have a single solution, but grassroots involvement, as well as legislative shifts, will have a role to play along with shifts in manufacturing processes that are geared towards a circular economy.

10 Principles of Citizen Science according to the Australian Citizen Science Association

  1. Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in a scientific endeavor that generates new knowledge or understanding. Citizens may act as contributors, collaborators, or project leaders and have a meaningful role in the project.
  2. Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcome. For example, answering a research question, informing conservation action, or facilitating policy decisions.
  3. Citizen science provides benefits to both science and society. Benefits may include learning opportunities, personal enjoyment, social benefits, the publication of research outputs, contributing to scientific evidence that can influence policy on many scales (locally, nationally, and internationally), and connecting the wider community with science.
  4. Citizen scientists may participate in various stages of the scientific process. This may include developing research questions, designing methods, gathering and analysing data, and communicating results.
  5. Citizen scientists receive feedback from the project. For example, how their data are being used and the research, policy, or societal outcomes.
  6. Citizen science, as with all forms of scientific inquiry, has limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for. However, unlike traditional research approaches, citizen science provides greater opportunity for public engagement and participation, increasing accessibility of science in society.
  7. Where possible and suitable, project data and meta-data from citizen science projects are made publicly available and results are published in an open-access format. Data sharing may occur during or after the project unless there are security or privacy concerns that prevent this from occurring.
  8. Citizen scientists are suitably acknowledged by projects. This may include acknowledgment in project communications, result reporting, and publications.
  9. Citizen science programs offer a range of benefits and outcomes which should be acknowledged and considered in project evaluation.  Communication and evaluation of projects could include scientific outputs, data quality, participant experience, and learning, knowledge sharing, social benefits, capacity building, new ways of science engagement, enhanced stakeholder dialogue, and wider societal or policy impact.
  10. The leaders of citizen science projects take into consideration the legal and ethical considerations of the project. These considerations include copyright, intellectual property, data sharing agreements, confidentiality, attribution, participant safety and wellbeing, traditional owner consultation, and the environmental impact of any activities.

Learn more about the global Marnie Debris Project and Tracker Citizen Science Project.

Read the published CSIRO Research into container deposit schemes.

Learn more about how TOMRA Cleanaway is delivering premier container deposit scheme network activities.

Become a Citizen Scientist today with the Debris Global Tracker.

Parents and Educators, find out more about how to engage students in litter tracking activities.