Student Independent Projects Environmental Studies 2015: The Role of Social Media in Enhancing Environmental Awareness through Citizen Science

McCaffrey, Kirsten M. (2015) Student Independent Projects Environmental Studies 2015: The Role of Social Media in Enhancing Environmental Awareness through Citizen Science. Research Report. Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland. (Unpublished)

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The introduction of social media has changed the world. Globally, people have immediate access to information and can instantly connect with businesses, access academic information and talk with other people thousands of miles away, all in a matter of seconds and for essentially no cost. Organizations have changed the way they pursue their goals and initiatives from a ‘push strategy’ to an ‘interested in’ strategy by creating small, localized groups and organizations that draw people of interest in, rather than begging for them to join and contribute (Malta Environment and Planning Authority, n.d.). The global introduction of social media has increased environmental awareness by having online classrooms, using various social media networks as interactive and learning tools and creating an online database for people to share their thoughts, photos and videos. Environmental agencies can take advantage of the widespread use of social media to gather and collect data from citizen scientists around the world. Citizen scientists are “public volunteers assisting scientists in their research by submitting data, sharing experiences or spreading valuable information” (National Wildlife Federation, 2009, para. 4). Having instantly-communicated information through smartphone technology can help environmental agencies gather information such as photos, gender, size, shape and coordinates of species under question that could help solve or contribute to sustainability initiatives and foster environmental awareness. Facebook is the most popular free social networking site in the world having 900,000,000 users, with Twitter being the second most popular with 310,000,000 users (eBizMBA, 2015). Among these users are current and potential citizen scientists who Role of Social Media in Enhancing Environmental Awareness through Citizen Science could use these social networking sites to contribute to an online database of information which would allow environmental researchers to access this information quickly, efficiently and free of charge. Collecting field data requires gathering information from multiple groups or communities located in different locations and geographical areas (Ontario Human Rights Commission, n.d.). Time and energy is required to produce sufficient and accurate data through citizen science, which can create problems because of tedious and difficult tasks such as counting and measuring. David, Corinne and Sperling (2007) explain “the utilization of citizen scientists could face issues concerning the endurance of citizen scientists’ patience” (p.7). A solution to these problems is using social media as a database to compile information from citizen scientists in the field which can eliminate concerns of timely data collection because social networking has become increasingly popular among all ages over the years and is widely accessible in most geographical areas (Kapow Software, n.d.). With access to cellular service in most regions of the world, social media can be accessed in remote and unique locations which are valuable for research purposes. The use of a smart phone with cellular service, built-in camera and GPS are the tools that are needed to successfully use social media networks and to communicate information instantly to an online database for public and scientific use. The easy accessibility of social media networks can provide important collections of data, including information on invasive species. Citizen scientists can take advantage of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites to provide scientists with specific information about invasive alien species like the green crab. The green crab has become one of the 100 worst alien invasive species in the world (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2013). On the East coast of Canada, the Atlantic provinces have seen an increase in the number of green crabs since they were first recorded in 2003 (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2013). Social media networks can equip citizen scientists with the tools they need to easily provide information on green crab for multiple research purposes. Green crabs feed on clams, oysters, other crabs, isopods, barnacles and algae and severely impact mussels and cockles (Holmes, 2001, para. 31). Green crabs eat almost anything and have virtually no predators, which is why there is a desperate need for intervention to save the biological ecosystem and some threatened fisheries. Fisheries are an important aspect of a community because they significantly contribute to food security, income, and economic welfare (NEPAD, 2008, para.1). This research paper will explore the positive impacts of citizen science and how citizen science can be improved by more effectively using social media to gather and display information of green crab in Canadian waters. The use of social media by citizen science can aid in increasing awareness of green crab and protection of ecosystems for future generations. Researchers can use information collected to see the abundance and distribution of the species under investigation in an effort to create a more effective management plan. This paper will also explore two online interactive websites including The Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network (EMAN) of Environment Canada and NLNature. EMAN provides funding on four subjects for citizen science education and observation through the NatureWatch program, but does not include monitoring of green crab (Canadian Museum of Nature, 2014). This paper will also explore the Newfoundland Nature (NLNature) website which is an interactive database that allows citizen scientists to submit information on wildlife and other environmental phenomena Role of Social Media in Enhancing Environmental Awareness through Citizen Science through social networking sites. One of the drawbacks of NLNature is that invasive species like the green crab have not been submitted or emphasized in importance. While these two programs have important merits, neither website is designed to realize the benefits of incorporating social media, especially in efforts to combat invasive alien species. It is recommended that NatureWatch and NLNature need to reassess their programs so that funding is provided to citizens for observation and education through citizen science to monitor invasive species through social media networks so that more accurate and in-depth data for environmental research is available. This paper will also explore strategies, which have been employed in other contexts to help improve the quality of citizen science. For instance, to provide increased knowledge and accuracy of citizen science, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has created educational grant opportunities to enrich citizen science in various environmental fields across 30 states in the United States (NOAA, n.d.). Canada would benefit if a program like this was established and it would contribute to a better understanding and monitoring of invasive species like the green crab.

Item Type: Report (Research Report)
Item ID: 11929
Department(s): Grenfell Campus > School of Arts and Social Science > Environmental Studies
Grenfell Campus > School of Science and the Environment > Environmental Studies
Date: 2015
Date Type: Submission

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