Citizen Science in the Caribbean
Data collected by Earthwatch volunteers inform a plan to conserve Jamaican coral reefs.
Professor Crabbe diving at coral reef.
The work of Earthwatch volunteers who collected data on the health of coral reefs is being used to support environmental policy development in Jamaica, according to a paper published recently in the International Journal of Zoology.
Professor Crabbe speaks about his research on coral reefs and climate change
Between 2000 and 2008, around 90 Earthwatch volunteers worked along the north coast of Jamaica with Earthwatch scientist Professor James Crabbe of the University of Bedfordshire, Luton, U.K. They found that certain corals were less resilient to environmental pressures, particularly after the 2005 El Niño—a weather-related phenomenon that recurs every few years, warming up parts of the tropical Pacific Ocean.
This occurrence of El Niño brought the warmest temperatures to the Caribbean for 150 years and caused many corals to lose their zooxanthellae, the algal cells that facilitate photosynthesis and give corals their bright color.
Earthwatch scientist Professor James Crabbe discusses the cause of coral bleaching and how it impacts the stability of reefs
Dr. Crabbe used the findings to inform a conservation action plan submitted to the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), in which he recommended that different zones in the area be given different levels of protection.
According to Dr. Crabbe, the action plan was “well-received by managers at the NEPA,” who felt that the zoning approach “could link together the environment with tourism and business, so that environmental issues are seen as part of the way forward, not part of the problem.”
The developments were reported in a paper in which Dr. Crabbe explores the application of citizen science.
Listen to a short recording of Professor Crabbe talking about the value of citizen science
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful model for getting long-term data sets,” he says. “Even when you’ve made policy changes, you still need to do the monitoring and that’s where citizen science can make a real difference. Organizations like the Earthwatch Institute are absolutely seminal to the future of the planet, and the future of mankind in this respect, by sponsoring these particular types of programs.”
Dr. Crabbe notes that the next steps would be to assess how citizen science can be used to better effect, and to assess where and how technology can transform the quality and quantity of data from volunteers.
Read the research article “From Citizen Science to Policy Development on the Coral Reefs of Jamaica” by M. James C. Crabbe.