Citizen Science Takes Off in Florida
The air is thick with the smell of Gulf of Mexico. The fifth graders are wearing clothes that can get dirty. They think they're on a field trip but they have a job to test the water and create a few more data points for the The Florida Aquarium's new Watershed Investigation team.
To them, it's just a day out of the classroom and a chance to wander along Apollo Beach, but the data they gather will form a numerical picture of the Gulf ecology and how it changes.
"Without good baseline information about what a particular habitat looked like before a disaster, it's impossible to do good, science-based restoration.", said Dr. Chris Simoniello, Director of Outreach and Education for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association. Her organization is sporsoring the project and building a portal to collect the data from volunteer scientists, who on this particular day were fifth graders from DeSoto Elementary School in Hillsborough County, FL. She's worried that the scientists won't know enough to fix the environment after another catastrophy like the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon in 2010.
The children are just part of the army that's being drafted to collect data points about the water and the pollution. Dr. Simoniello's organization already collects information from scientists, but it's hoping that adding new information from any citizen will broaden the reach of the dataset. The field trips won't just be an excuse for some fresh air, they'll be filling in the gaps and forming a foundation for long-term study.
"These organizations will be compiling long data sets that can be used to teach students about the types of information that is gathered about the environment and show them how things change over time," Dr. Simoniello said. And also just how muddy, smelly and luscious the wild can be.