Citizen science and COVID-19

Just as ACSA responded to the bushfire crisis earlier in the year, we would also like to contribute to how the Australian community can stay positive, share experiences and contribute to science and learning in the context of COVID-19 social distancing, flattening the curve and mitigation.

Doing more together

While physical isolation guidelines are being implemented globally, this doesn’t mean we need to feel isolated and powerless during this challenging time. Indeed citizen science is all about the power and potential of ‘scale’ and that by working together we can do more. 

Many in our community are finding comfort in continuing with their daily citizen science activities and the sense of connection and purpose it provides. Whether that is recording species in our backyards, monitoring our rain gauges or helping to digitise records and images. We also want to share that sense of purpose with others in the broader community – especially those whose normal avenues of connecting are being restricted such as our senior citizens. 

Get involved with purpose 

We provide here is a list of some citizen science activities that anyone with a mobile phone or internet connection can actively participate in. Websites such as ACSA’s Project Finder, SciStarter and Zooniverse also provide an fantastic array of citizen science projects to explore. We will gradually add to this list and would welcome your suggestions: send us an email with your favourites.

Online citizen science projects:

  • Foldit – an online game in which citizens help design and identify proteins to help researchers create an antiviral therapy for COVID-19.
  • Flutracking – online health surveillance program to track influenza across Australia and New Zealand, and help researchers understand disease spread and target intervention. 
  • DigiVol – from the Australian Museum, a crowdsourcing platform to transcribe and digitise images and information from natural history collections in Australia and across the world, including camera traps and field journals.
  • Western Shield Camera Watch – analysing camera trap images to manage introduced predators, primarily foxes and cats, that threaten native wildlife in Western Australia.
  • Eyewire – a citizen science human-based computation game that challenges players to map retinal neurons.
  • – digitising old Southern Ocean and Antarctic weather data from the log books of sailors and explorers from the 19th and 20th centuries to feed into a supercomputer to create daily weather animation for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
  • Bash the Bug – help understand which antibiotics are effective against Tuberculosis.
  • Stallcatchers – identifying blood vessels for blockages (stalls) that may contribute to Alzheimers and speed up research for a treatment.
  • Citizen Science Games – this website provides a great list of online citizen science games including various articles and publications
  • Astroquest– complete quests to help Australian scientists understand how galaxies grow and evolve
  • Open Pandemics – download software to run simulated experiments to help predict the effectiveness of chemical compounds on treating COVID-19.
You can get involved in citizen science from your home with online projects such as Digivol

Backyard citizen science projects:

Even from your backyard, home, local park or nature reserve you can participate in collecting citizen science information – download some of the apps or participate in some upcoming “blitzes”. Here are just a few to start you on your journey:

  • iNaturalist’s City Nature Challenge – April 24-27 2020 – be part of the global City Nature Challenge
  • Wild Pollinator Count  – April 12-19th 2020 – count wild pollinators in your local environment and help build a database on wild pollinator activity
  • Citizen Science Month – April 2020 – check out on social media #CitSciMonth for things happening to celebrate citizen science internationally and ways to participate virtually.
  • iNaturalist – record your observations of species, and share with the iNaturalist community   
  • FrogID – a national citizen science project that is helping us learn more about what is happening to Australia’s frogs by recording frog calls.
  • NatureMapr – community based citizen science platform to collect, manage and share species data.
  • QuestaGame – a game to make the adventure of going outdoors real and contribute to research.
  • Brush turkeys – collecting information about the Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) in suburbia, including observing their behaviours
  • Birdata – BirdLife Australia’s platform for those interested in the amazing array of birds in Australia.
  • ClimateWatch – understand how changes in temperature and rainfall are affecting the seasonal behaviour of Australia’s plants and animals.
  • Urban Wildlife App – an app with research from the environmental science program the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub looking at bell frogs, flying foxes and beneficial insects.
  • Hush City – a science mobile app, which empowers people to identify and assess quiet areas in cities to create an open access, web-based map of quiet areas, with the potential of orientating plans and policies for healthier living

Opportunity to learn and reflect

With the COVID-19 outbreak we have been inundated with a deluge of information and advice, highlighting the importance of science and an evidence-base to tackle challenges and make decisions (e.g. public health, epidemiology, modelling, vaccine production, genome sequencing etc). The global citizen science community also wants to make sure that we extend and improve our knowledge and theory around the practice of citizen science and reflect upon the relationship between science and society. ACSA’s 10 Principles of Citizen Science is one way we drive good practice in citizen science.

Many people ask “what is citizen science?” and if you would like to know more there is a growing resource base to explore that question and reflect on how it might apply to your work and community aspirations: 

Reach out and share

The fast emerging impact of COVID-19 provides us as a society and its various actors (individual, community or organisational) the opportunity to reflect upon what small acts of reaching out and sharing we can do for those where the retreat to social isolation is confronting or another barrier to empowerment. For ACSA’s Vice Chair this was highlighted in a personal way:

“When my 80 year mother came to dinner last weekend she was very upset. All the things that kept her busy, provided structure to the day, meant she could meet up with friends and learn more about the world were cancelled – no University of the Third Age, no bridge, no Probus, no exercise class, no music concerts! While we as a family are connecting with her as much as possible, I wanted to see if she would be interested in citizen science as a way to bring some purpose and “something to do” back to her daily-life. “But I didn’t do science at school” she insisted. Not deterred, we have started on #NanDoesCitSci with the Digivol platform – the echidnas attacking a mallee fowl nest our first task together. We are hoping to earn the “Scientist” badge.”  

What can you do to reach out with citizen science?  Tell us your stories here – and as we opened with, let’s be “doing more together”.

Update – 30 March 2020

ACSA members have also recently contributed to a number of recent articles around citizen science and COVID-19:

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