While we have a fairly good idea of what's going on on land, just 5% of the ocean has been truly explored and charted by humans. Even the places we've explored are often poorly understood, and that also goes for coastal environments.
With that in mind, researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) designed a system where internet users and citizen scientists can help researchers get a better understanding of the ecosystems that lie by the coast -- in this particular case, by the coast of Wales.
Citizen science has grown quite a bit in recent years. For starters, it's become easier than ever to share data and images, and we also have access to an unprecedented amount of data. This is a good thing, of course, but it also brings a new challenge: analyzing all that data. Simply put, most labs and research institutes don't have enough manpower to scour all the footage and data that the equipment brings up.
This is where you come in.
People like you or I, without any formal information, can help researchers make sense of all this footage -- and by help, I mean watch cool videos of animals in their wild, native, underwater environment.
This call to action comes from Project SIARC (Sharks Inspiring Action and Research with Communities) a collaboration led by ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) designed to further understand the rare sharks, skates, and rays living in the Wales area. To do this, they've been asking for help from fishers, local communities, and researchers across Wales -- and now, they're asking for help from citizen scientists.
ZSL’s Joanna Barker, Project SIARC Senior Project Manager, said: “Welsh waters are home to an incredible diversity of rare and unusual coastal species, including the Angelshark and tope, both listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
“We’re excited to be able to bring this underwater world into people’s homes. By logging into ZSL’s Instant Wild, people from anywhere can help us better understand where marine animals are found, how they interact with other species and how they use the protected Welsh habitats they call home - all essential knowledge to help safeguard these species.”
The good thing is you don't need to be a local. You can use ZSL’s Instant Wild app and online platform from the comfort of your home no matter here you're from. It works like this: you log in (or just continue without an account) and look through the footage highlighted by ZSL. If you see an animal (or several) moving through the video, you select the animal category from a list. If you're feeling very confident, you can even identify the species, and if there's no animal, you simply click No Animal.
For researchers, this is very useful because it saves valuable processing time. For citizen scientists, it offers an opportunity to see unexplored footage and try their hand at signalling different species.
It's not the first time something like this is developed. Researchers are increasingly trying to recruit citizen scientists and in some cases, it seems to be working. ZSL’s Instant Wild project manager Kate Moses said:
"Citizen scientists from across the world have helped conservationists identify wild animals on land in places such as Kenya, Croatia, Italy and Mexico – now, for the first time, we’ll be taking citizen scientists beneath the waves in Wales, and offering a Welsh language version - to help even more people engage with conservation. "
"ZSL is intent on removing barriers to conservation, so that more people can get involved with our work saving species - Instant Wild is open to all ages, and no experience is needed, since a simple tutorial is provided – teaching people how to identify the amazing animals they might be lucky enough to spot on screen."
So if you've ever wanted to try your hand at doing some scientific work, or even just explore the great blue, this is a good chance to get started.