Friday, April 19, 2024

Wanted: Citizen Scientists

Turtle Census. (photo: Virginia Living Museum).

NEWPORT NEWS — Curious about the world around and looking for ways to understand or contribute to issues that may surround our environment? Then April — Citizen Science Month — may be the time to learn more.

“In citizen science, the public participates voluntarily in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems in ways that may include formulating research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems,” explains, whose mission is to nurture collaboration between the federal government and the public to advance inclusive participation in scientific discovery and research. provides a a catalog that lists a variety of federally supported citizen science projects as well as a toolkit to assist federal practitioners with designing and maintaining their projects.

Projects range from monitoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay to cloud spotting on Mars.

Locally, Virginia Living Museum (VLM) has several community conservation programs that promote citizen science and learning about conservation, as well as the environment.

VLM participates in FrogWatch USA by training citizens to identify frog calls and track locations, which is important because frogs, which are a type of amphibian, “are very sensitive to their environment and serve a bio-indicator of the eco-systems overall health,” said VLM Herpetology Curator, Kortney Jaworski.

The Turtle Census program takes place in the summer to better understand the turtle population. Over the 14 years VLM has been tracking turtle populations, Deanna Orr, Conservation and Ambassador Animal Manager for VLM, states they have seen a trend in the data that shows more non-native and fewer native turtles.

Project Feeder Watch allows citizen scientists to contribute to a survey of birds of North America by simply observing the different species of birds that visit your bird feeder and submitting the data online to help ornithologists see where birds decide to spend their winters.

Jenn Daley, Communications and Data Director of VLM, explains how conservation really is a full community effort between programs such as those at VLM, the community, as well as through philanthropic support such as a recent grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation.

“A lot of people feel like ‘oh, I’m not a scientist. I wasn’t trained to do that. I don’t know how I can help.’ That is our job. We can provide the expertise and teach you everything you need to know. You just have to be willing and ready to try,” said Orr.

“There are not enough scientists in the world to go out and collect all the data and do the work. So, getting more people involved in citizen science programs not only helps us here at VLM, it helps broader science and helps to conserve nature, which is really important,” Orr continued, “Everybody can be a part of it as long as they are willing to come lend a hand and learn something new.”

Register and learn more about Virginia Living Museum’s conservation programs online.

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