Australian Citizen Science Association statement on 2019/20 bushfires

The unprecedented Australian fires are devastating. They have led to the loss of lives, homes, habitats and livelihoods. Members of the Australian Citizen Science Association extend our deepest sympathies to those affected personally and also recognise the ecological grief that may be prompted by the scale of this crisis. 

In this time of extreme loss, we are also buoyed by the extraordinary response of individuals and communities in a time of crisis.  We believe there is a role for citizen science to assist across multiple disciplines, in many research and monitoring capacities. 

ACSA is a member-based community that supports, informs and develops citizen science. With this in mind, we are seeking to support conversations and plans that help further connect the citizen science community to contribute to the extraordinary and complex efforts required to organise a safe, strategic and coordinated response – both short and long-term.

We understand that there are many people who want to help with response. We do too. Please appreciate that the safety of you and others is paramount.  If considering citizen science activities, always ensure that the area you visit is cleared for entry, you are safe and that your activities do not interfere with the critical frontline work of emergency first responders. We are not currently promoting field based data collection. Emergency responses need to come first. Many volunteers are actively contributing to response efforts as firefighters, relief centre workers, and wildlife carers, while other people returning to their homes are putting out water or vegetables for wildlife remaining. Our thanks goes out to those contributing to these efforts.

The first four steps of ACSA’s approach is outlined below:

STEP 1 – Rapid community feedback

ACSA has commenced multiple processes for crowdsourcing information about what and how citizen science projects might contribute to the recovery of forests and ecosystems, monitor the effects of climate change, and empower citizens to create datasets that may positively influence climate policy.  

A quick call for ideas is open for feedback. No idea is too big or too small. You can share information about  existing projects and new concepts that could address a critical gap. As a community, we can work together to create and support imaginative, robust and impactful projects that will contribute to positive outcomes for science and society. We’ll share the ideas generated with you and use them as part of our citizen science advocacy in consultations with government and industry. 

STEP 2 – Community of practice discussion

We encourage our members to join the WILDLABS Bushfires Slack channels, in which several of our committee members, and representatives from response organizations such as Conservation Volunteers Australia, are already active. Please get involved in these conversations to share your insights and details of any active groups or discussions around citizen science bushfire responses so that we can link to these initiatives. There are several citizen science threads. The WILDLABS Slack link is <https://www.wildlabs.net/community/thread/825>. 

STEP 3 – Project audit & key needs

We are partnering with SciStarter and Atlas of Living Australia on a survey to compile a list of projects where citizen science data and data processing could be useful in helping to monitor the impacts and recovery from the bushfires and of a changing climate more broadly. We will be posting this survey soon – please stay tuned. 

This survey will be a first step in helping to support the broader conversations around how to maximise the positive contributions from citizen science for response and recovery efforts. If you manage or know about good projects, we very much value your feedback.  There are a huge range of existing citizen science projects that are already collecting data around relevant topics. 

Potential categories of needs and goals identified so far include:

    • post fire assessment and recovery (ecology and or biodiversity monitoring, documenting regrowth, identifying remaining patches of habitat, soil condition)
    • Wildlife and endangered species support (presence/absence, abundance, distribution, predator control)
    • Air quality, cloud, smoke monitoring etc. (empowering citizens to self-monitor or access nearby monitoring, coordinating citizen data)
    • Water quality, including runoff/ash issues (projects exist, coordinating/sharing role)
    • Health and well-being (respiratory issues, mental health, community sustainability)
    • Climate change observations, local weather conditions
    • Research (Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC
    • Shared global goals (Earth Challenge 2020, SDGs). 

We have also had a number of science, research and conservation organisations reach out. This conversation linking key needs from science, management and policy organisations and the Australian and global citizen science community is where ACSA seeks to focus our efforts. To help us consider ways to best connect the citizen science community with key needs, we welcome feedback on critical information gaps and key research needs where citizen science can help. 

STEP 4 – Long-term strategy

An effective response to coordinate citizen science contributions at this scale will require extensive strategy, consideration and collaboration. ACSA will work to develop a more long-term response together with you, our community. This will include approaches to best align the key data needs identified by science, management and communities with citizen science data collection, processing, analysis and sharing activities. 

We’re exploring ideas around how we can support constructive sessions at the upcoming ACSA National Citizen Science Conference (Oct 2020) and through other key advocacy and collaborative activities. We welcome your feedback to shape next steps. If you are interested in being part of a working group for a disaster recovery research stream of the conference, please contact cobi.calyx@unsw.edu.au.

ACSA stands with you and your communities, and we will support Australia’s response to the bushfire and climate crisis as best we can. As climate change continues to influence more aspects of our lives through both extreme events and other environmental, social, cultural and economic changes, we want to continue strengthening ACSA as a platform that can advocate for your priorities.

One comment

  1. MICHAEL BEAR says:

    Hi,

    our sincere condolences for the hardships our Australians friends are going through as a result of these horrendous fires.

    I have posted your message on my Facebook ‘Citizen Scientists of the Ocean’ group, with over 8,000 members from around the world.

    Hope this helps,

    Sincerely,

    Michael Bear
    Ocean Sanctuaries
    San Diego, CA

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