By: Chad Scott
SCUBA divers are doing more than just enjoying visits to underwater worlds; they actively contribute to scientific knowledge and our understanding of the oceans. With the rise of the internet, smartphones, and digital cameras, a new nexus has been forged that allows anyone to become a citizen scientist. And while many of these endeavors are still in their infancy, they have already yielded incredible results.
From discovering new species of tiny nudibranchs to understanding the life history of the world's largest fish, divers are redefining what it means to be a scientist. Read on to discover how you can join this movement, and add more enjoyment and value to every dive you do.
How do Divers get Involved in Citizen Science?
Citizen science is a term used to describe any scientific work done in whole or part by everyday people. While it's important on land, it is the ocean where this field has the most value.
This is because citizen scientists allow for a dispersed, constant, and local community of people to collect and report observations. Scientists can't be everywhere, and often being in the right place at the right time is hard, especially when you are on deadlines and strict funding cycles.
Take seahorses, for example. They are cryptic and not very abundant, so it's challenging for researchers to plan a survey trip and ensure they can find some. But divers are in the water every day. By reporting sightings to Project Seahorse, we can know where seahorses are being seen (or not seen) and what species are present.
What Citizen Science Programs can Divers Contribute to?
No matter where you dive, you can contribute valuable data from your dives to various programs. Some require a bit of training, and others just a camera and internet connection.
iNaturalist: if you like taking pictures, this is a great place to report interesting animal observations. Through this site, new species have been found, and some species thought to be extinct have been re-spotted.
CoralWatch: After watching a short video and ordering the chart, you can collect data on coral health during every dive. This data helps track coral health worldwide and has directed policy decision-making during bleaching events.
WhaleShark.org / Sharkbook.ai: Whale sharks have unique patterns, like our fingerprints, that can be used to identify and track individuals. Submissions by divers help us understand their movements and life history, like in this recent publication from Thailand.
SeaTurtleIDMe.org & Tao Talay Aow Thai: like the spots on the whale shark, we can use the scales on sea turtles to ID individuals and track them as they migrate around the world.
This is just a tiny sample of the projects you can get involved in and contribute to on your next dive. Many other programs that operate on both global and local scales are genuinely making a difference.
Be sure to ask your dive center what projects they support and how you can get involved, and remember to search for local organizations you can help with wherever you travel next.
Have fun diving!
Chad has a Master's Degree in Marine Ecology. He has started two of his own marine conservation companies - a reef management program in Thailand and a non-profit marine conservation training teaching and certification company based in the US. We thank Chad for all the hard work he does to save the worlds oceans. Learn more at New Haven Reef Conservation and Conservation Diver.