Author: Michelle Neil

Science Geek. Wife. Mum. #SciVol with @CSIRO. Play sax in 20 piece big band. Cook & artist in my *spare* time. @CitSciOz tweeter & Secretary. #scicomm

@CitSciTC – A Citizen Science Conference For Everyone

Towards the end of 2019 we will see something that has never happened in citizen science before – our first ever worldwide twitter conference!

Do you have a smartphone? An internet connected laptop? A computer with wifi? Does your local library have public computers connected to the internet or provides access to wifi? If so then you can participate. But here’s the great thing – there is no venue to pay for and no accommodation needed so this is the cheapest conference you will ever attend!

What is a Twitter Conference?

A Twitter conference is a virtual conference that takes place on Twitter under the hashtag #CitSciTC. Just like a regular conference, #CitSciTC will feature research presentations and even keynotes, but the talks will be delivered via a series of tweets under the conference hashtag.

At this stage #CitSciTC is still in the planning stages. However the conference organisers would love some help including some tweeters to be our “Spam Police” both leading up and during the conference. If you would like to help in any way please contact the twitter account for the conference @CitSciTC or email CitSciTC@gmail.com.

Never tweeted before or not sure how to set up an account? Have a look at this really helpful video.

If you would like to see a twitter conference in action the 5th World Seabird Twitter Conference (#WSTC5) starts next week and you can already follow the online conversation here.

#CitSci2019, Raleigh, NC USA!

By Michelle Neil (ACSA Secretary and social media moderator)

We come together at this conference to learn and work together for positive, productive outcomes.”

Every year ACSA sends a member of the Management Committee to a sister citizen science association conference somewhere in the world. This year I was the lucky one, so earlier this month I set off to attend the Citizen Science Association’s #CitSci2019 Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina USA.

Flying into Raleigh NC. Population 464,000. Pic: Michelle Neil

After more than 30 hours of travel I flew into Raleigh at 4am on Tuesday the 12th of March, grabbed an UBER and headed to the hotel.

The first day of the conference dawned cold and fine. I headed across the road to the Raleigh Convention Centre to help with the expected 800+ registrations!

I was very impressed by CSA’s organization of this event. At #CitSciOz18 we had 3 concurrent sessions running at any one time. However at #CitSci2019, CSA had up to 7 sessions running concurrently! This made me very busy trying to figure out which sessions I had already pre-booked and which ones I had already nominated to go to. I would have loved to go on the excursions but I wasn’t sure what I would miss out on that day.  Thank goodness for the conference app!

Raleigh Convention Centre. Pic: Michelle Neil

The theme for the conference was “Growing Our Family Tree”.  There were 4 main sub-themes intertwined throughout the conference. The themes were Equity (not equality), Education, Environmental Justice and Applied Ecology.  These themes were very well represented by the keynote speakers each morning and the Environmental Justice Panel on the Friday night.

This is what 800+ delegates looks like! Pic: Michelle Neil

Equity

Of the 4 keynote speakers I was particularly impressed with Dr Max Liboiron from Memorial University and Director of CLEAR, the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research, which is an explicitly feminist and anticolonial laboratory that studies marine microplastics in Newfoundland, Canada.

Dr Liboiron spoke about the difference between equity and equality, the power relations within citizen science, humbleness and paying her citizen scientists. I thoroughly recommend you read her speech as she has transcribed it here.

She neatly summed it up in the end with the words “Let’s use citizen science as an opportunity to be more equitable, more humble, more diverse.”

I was so impressed with Dr Libiron’s speech I even tweeted to #CitSciOz18 keynote speaker Dr Emilie Ens (We Study Country, Macquaire Uni) and e-introduced these two amazing citizen science researchers. I found their methods of citizen science very interesting and thought that they should at least be aware of one another.

Education

Education, particularly STEM, is a subject very dear to my heart so it was fantastic to hear Marine Biologist-turned-science teacher Rachael Polmanteer and three of her students from River Bend Middle School in Raleigh talk about how citizen science had been incorporated into their classroom and how much they now like to go to science class and what they want to do in science in the future.

Rachael, in conjunction with citizen science practitioners, is literally writing the book on how to incorporate citizen science into classrooms with their local curriculum.  This means that students (and teachers) can do more hands-on science with citizen science plus further the field of scientific knowledge. I would love to see more of this work in the open access journal “Citizen Science: Theory and Practice”. Perhaps there should be a student edition?

I was very impressed with both Rachael’s and her students’ talks.  It’s not easy standing up in front of so many people to talk!I gave them each a little clip on koala as a keepsake, I think they were a hit, don’t you?

Environmental JusticeSource: https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice (29.03.19)

Did you know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA have developed an “Air Sensor Toolbox”?  The EPA site “provides information for citizen scientists and others on how to select and use low-cost, portable air sensor technology and understand results from monitoring activities. The information can help the public learn more about air quality in their communities.” Enviromental Justice (EJ) is really just starting out here in AUstralia but in the USA it is in full swing and has been for many years. The EJ panel brought together citizen scientists and practitioners in a compelling arguement for equity.

https://www.epa.gov/air-sensor-toolbox

I attended one of the Air Quality Workshops presented by the EPA USA where we talked about what sort of air monitoring we would need in different situations and also about which commercially available sensors were the best fit for each situation. Then we got to go out and put the sensors to the test! My personal favourite was the AirBeam air pollution monitor which wifi’d to an Android tablet. I did find out that it wasnt available on iphone or ipads as yet.

Trying out the AirBeam air pollution monitor. Pic: Michelle Neil

Environmental Justice (EJ) is really just starting out here in Australia but in the USA it is in full swing and has been for many years. The EJ panel brought together citizen scientists and practitioners in a compelling arguement for equity.

The panel was live streamed and I recommend you watch the entire program on the CSA YouTube site here. It will be very interesting to see how Australia develops in citizen science in this sector. Should we be proactive and have an Environmental Justice working group? Food for thought…

 

Applied Ecology

Have you ever wondered if sour dough bread is the same in USA as it is in Australia? Or what are the microbes in your belly button?  Rob Dunn from North Carolina State University spoke about the smaller things in life – ants and microbes and what they can tell us about our environment and how it is shaping us!

Rob’s team of citizen science practitioners run all sorts of cool projects. In fact you can ask to do the Sour Dough Project here in Australia through the SciStarter website. In fact there is even a project to make beer from the yeast wild bees pick up!

Tragedy…

On the Friday night we had all heard the news about the terrible Christchurch Mosque Shooting. It was a tough day for our Kiwi friends in our ACSA contingent and also those of us who have family and friends “across the ditch” in New Zealand. The Environmental Justice panel Chair Dr Sacoby Wilson asked everyone to pay their respects and stand for a moment of silence for the victims of gun violence.

 

Everyone stood before bowing their heads for the moment of silence to pay their respects to the victims in NZ of gun violence. Pic: Michelle Neil

Podcast with SciStarter

One of my highlights was chatting with and recording a podcast with SciStarter’s Caroline Knickerson and finally getting to meet the founder of SciStarter, Darlene Cavalier with whom I have been tweeting and interacting back and forth on Facebook with for ages.  I even got to sit in on a few workshops with Darlene and the SciStarter crew including the all-important Citizen Science Day working group. Citizen Science Day falls on the 13th of April this year.

Caroline and I after taping the podcast. I loved the badges! She loved the koala!

Finally got a moment to say hello to the amazing Darlene and pose for a #CitSciSelfie!

Citizen Science Day

So how do you run Citizen Science Day if you’re the moderator of the Australian Citizen Science Association’s social media platforms?

The answer is to encourage everyone to go to the Citizen Science Day website and sign up to do the Stall Catchers Megathon to help scientists find a cure for Alzheimers!

https://scistarter.org/citizen-science-day

If you are running a Bioblitz or any other citizen science day event please let us know via email so that we may help you promote it on our ACSA channels.

The CitSciDay organisers covered most of the globe! Pic: Michelle Neil

City Nature Challenge

While at CitSci2019 I also wanted to find out more about the City Nature Challenge that is run every year in the last weekend of April using the iNaturalist app. I was too late to sign up this year as an organiser but I have put my name down for next year to get some people together and Bioblitz my hometown in SE Qld.

Team to beat: Boston, USA!

Boston USA organisers. Pic: Michelle Neil
One of my absolute favourite symposia was led by our own International Liasion Officer, Jessie Oliver as a fireside-style chat. With a truly stellar line up Jessie and her team talked tech design with around 30 audience participants. This was great because this style got everyone involved. In fact I was quite hard pressed to keep up with the minutes! You can check out the blog I co-wrote with Muki Haklay here. Collaborative note taking! Yay!

Jessie and I were also invited to attend a working group for the emerging Iberamericano (South American) Citizen Science Association and share our memories and ‘dos and donuts’ of setting up a citizen science association from scratch. I was amazed at just how much we had done, when Jessie and I started putting it all down on paper. Redricap (as it is known) has the added problem of language barrier. Portuguese, Spanish and English are the three main languages of South America. I suggested that Twitter and Facebook, with their translation abilities, would be ideal platforms to start on. I am looking forward to seeing how this develops!

On the final day of the conference I got up in front of everyone and asked 7 important words “Who would like to go to Australia?”

And the whole room leapt to their feet!

So I extended the invitation to come along to our ACSA #CitSciOz20 conference in SE Qld next year.

I wonder how many will come along?

I also announced the creation of a new conference which a few of us had been discussing last year in April – the first ever Citizen Science Twitter Conference to be held later this year.  @CitSciTC  is currently seeking moderators so if you are interested please contact the twitter account.

In closing, I would like to thank ACSA and CSA for supporting me to go to #CitSci2019. It was a fantastic experience working with amazing people. The work we have done in various symposia and workshops continues to this day as I am now contributing to Jessie’s HCI Group, Dr Andrea Wiggin’s Risk and Responsibility Group and the Iberoamericana (South American Citizen Science Association) formation working groups document.
Now to try and catch up on my sleep!
The stayers going out for dinner on the last night…. we didn’t want the week to end!

Launch of ACSA-QLD, Citizen Science Strategy and more!

By Michelle Neil, ACSA-QLD member & ACSA Secretary

Did you know that the very first meeting to form ACSA started at the Queensland Museum? On the 10th of May 2014 more than 80 people met to develop this community of practice we now call ACSA. It’s amazing to realise that it has been less than 5 years ago since it all began…

January 24th 2019 was a landmark day for citizen science in Queensland as Minister Leeanne Enoch formally launched the new ACSA-QLD Chapter and announced the Queensland Government’s Citizen Science strategy and grants at the Queensland Museum.

Citizen science groups including Cooloola Coast Care, Qld Health’s Zika Mozzie Seeker, Scenic Rim Wildlife, BirdLife Southern QLD, Brisbane Catchments Network, CoralWatch, Healthy Land and Water, Gold Coast Catchment Association, Griffith Centre for Coastal Management and the City of Gold Coast were invited to set up a stall in the Whale Mall.  Over 200 adults and kids stopped by to try their hand at citizen science activities and to listen to Minister Enoch’s speech about the value of “mobilising Queenslanders to help our scientists with important research projects, because the more eyes and ears you’ve got out there, the better”.

http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2019/1/24/government-funding-aims-to-mobilise-queenslands-citizen-scientists

Zika Mozzie Seeker coordinator and Advanced Medical Entomoligst, Brian Montgomery from Metro South, Qld Health, spoke about the importance of public participation in early warning programs and how important “null”or zero values (e.g. no mosquitoes) are to citizen science projects. He also spoke about the commitment of citizen science projects to communicate findings back to the project’s citizen scientists.

In his first official speech as ACSA-QLD Chair, James Gullison spoke about the new ACSA-QLD Chapter, the Citizen Science strategy and grants before inviting the former Qld Chief Scientist, Dr Christine Williams to be the patron of the ACSA Qld Chapter. You can read James’ speech below.

More information about the Qld Citizen Science strategy and grants can be found here.

So what’s next for ACSA-QLD? After a big deep breath we are now very busy organising a citizen science booth for World Science Festival Brisbane. Come along and see us at Street Science!

ACSA-QLD Chair James Gullison

 

Speech: James Gullison (ACSA-QLD Chair)

“The ACSA-QLD Chapter is excited about the launch of the Queensland Citizen Science Strategy as we believe it will further promote the value of citizen science to the greater community.

It was less than 12 months ago when there was a meeting of the Queensland delegates at the Australian Citizen Science Conference in Adelaide when we were told the Office of the Chief Scientist was supportive of an ACSA-QLD Chapter. From the formation of the committee in June 2018, it’s hard to believe  how quickly the strategy and chapter have progressed in a short time frame.

We could not have achieved so much over the past twelve months without the support of the Office of the Chief Scientist. We would like to thank the former Chief Scientist Dr Christine Williams for her role and ongoing support and formally invite her to be the patron of the ACSA-QLD Chapter.

The location and timing for the launch of the Queensland Citizen Science Strategy could not be more appropriate, particularly during the school holiday period. It is great to see so many excited faces around the venue which demonstrates the passion and enthusiasm that community has for citizen science. Being a father of a 4 year old, it gives me pleasure when I am able to share my passions and work with her due to the excitement she gets when she tells me that she is a ‘scientist’.

Citizen science is inclusive and allows anyone to be able to participate in a variety of projects. It’s what makes it such a rewarding and fulfilling experience because the research is being achieved and people are enjoying themselves in the process. It allows us to go diving with Reef Check and assist on their surveys, waking up on cold mornings and searching for platypus in the Gold Coast hinterland with PlatypusWatch and observing the native birds in our backyards with BirdLife Australia.

Citizen science covers a whole range of science categories and it’s what makes it so appealing – it’s for anyone.”

Elysia australis – The Elusive Australian

It was Sunday the 10th of February 2018. The day dawned a great deal cooler that the previous 40⁰C we had been experiencing in Adelaide that week. A small bus load of tired but happy delegates headed out to visit Aldinga Reef, home of one of ReefWatch SA’s longest running citizen science projects, on the final #CitSciOz18 Road Trip.

Approximately 40 minutes later we arrived at Aldinga Beach where we were met with light winds, sunny skies and our citizen scientist hosts; Neville Hudson and Thelma Bridle.

Hard rolled ball of seaweed at Aldinga Beach (pic: Michelle Neil)

After a brief chat we donned our old sneakers or aqua shoes and headed down the long winding raised path to the sand below. Once on the sand we marvelled at the hard rolled balls of seaweed on the beach before venturing out on the shifting sharp rocks of the reef.

On the way out to the ReefWatch SA monitoring site citizen scientist, Stuart Harris from Canberra stopped to take a look into one of the many rock pools. He thought he saw something interesting so grabbed his phone and his new Go Micro 60X microscope and started snapping a few pictures.  Thelma came over to see what Stuart had found and took a few as well for her own records and later verification.

We were all intrigued by this tiny white spotted green sea slug obviously trying to find food but no one was sure what it was. An ID was needed!

What have you found, Stuart? (pic: Michelle Neil)

(You can see the video on our Facebook page.  If you look very carefully you can even see the moment that Stuart spotted the Elysia australis.)

Elysia australis under the 60x (pic: Stuart Harris)

A week went by and I wondered what happed with the identification of that small green sea slug. I asked Stuart for a copy of the photo and sent it through to our ACSA National Coordinator, Amy Slocombe, to see if anyone at the Australian Museum could provide an ID.

A few hours later an email from Neville popped into my inbox:

“I am following up on your visit to our local reef at Aldinga Beach just over a week ago. One of your colleagues located a sea slug we had not found before. He photographed it with a telephoto lens attached to his telephone. Thelma Bridle, local volunteer, also took a photo and subsequently returned a day or so later and again found the slug. It did take her an hour of searching so this fellow is not common. It has been identified as Elysia australis. With this email find two photos; 0458 was taken when you were on the reef the other, 30461, was two days later. I think you will find the photos and the story behind this fellow interesting.”

30461 Pic (Thelma Bridle)

Intrigued I jumped over to the Atlas of Living Australia and typed in Elysia australis. Imagine my surprise to find there was only 7 listed records of the species in Australia – one of which was from one of our ACSA members, Libby Hepburn.  Yet none of those records appeared to be from South Australia!

Some of those 7 Australian records were quite old too:

I excitedly shared my research with Neville and Stuart. If the 2 sightings were uploaded into the Atlas then that would make more of this picture complete. You never know, it could be important!

I hadn’t found out much more about the species by this stage – only that they are found “throughout Australia” which to me seemed a bit vague and didn’t match what I was seeing on the ALA website. Although I did manage to find one page on the defunct Sea Slug Forum which at least had pictures!

Meanwhile I had received an email from Amy, our National Coordinator who had managed, via a colleague Dr Mandy Reid to get an identification. She kindly showed Stuart’s pictures to Dr Richard Willan, Senior Curator of Molluscs, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory who confirmed the sighting:

“According to Dr Wilan, Elysia australis is the commonly used species name for the native Australian sap-sucking sea slug and that it is already likely recorded from South Australia but overlooked because of its habitat (very high tidal rock pools).”

Neville shared my frustration:

“You asked if the Elysia australis is rare. This was something I wasn’t sure about. I had an information sheet Thelma had sent me and my reference books didn’t help me a lot. From the computer I noticed that there have only been 8 Living Atlas records noted. (I hope I have been reading the Living Atlas site correctly.) However, I went to another site; “Sea Slug Forum” and I found the question from Clare Norton 11th Sept 2000 below:

September 11, 2000

From: Clare Norton

I was wondering if you had a photo of Elysia australis? Also, I have heard that this species is found in rockpools around Sydney and Wollongong. If this is correct, I was wondering if you knew of any localities where they are likely to be found? I am interested because I have to do a project for uni about developing an experiment to sample E. australis. I don’t actually have to conduct the experiment but I have searched for them without success and it would greatly help me to design an experiment if I could actually observe some in the field.

Thanks for your time and help,

Clare Norton

Unfortunately the Sea Slug Forum, once affiliated with the Australian Museum no longer accept new posts as it was discontinued in 2010 according to Wikipedia. Both Neville and I were interested to note that the founder, Bill Rudman wrote:

“Since 1998 when the Forum began I see 14,523 messages have been posted. They range from simple identifications to important new biological discoveries. I had hoped the Forum would be an example of how the world wide web could be a vital tool in bringing amateurs and professional scientists together to learn from each other. I give my thanks to those in the Museum who have supported the site, to my professional colleagues worldwide and all those great and enthusiastic amateurs worldwide, who have made my dream a reality. Unfortunately I had thought this would become a permanent site. I will continue to try and resurrect the site as a functioning forum. If so it will have the same address.

Bill Rudman billr@seaslugforum.net

Was the SeaSlug Forum an early citizen science project from the Australian Museum? It certainly appeared that way!

Since then Stuart has uploaded his sighting to the Atlas of Living Australia bringing the total up to 8 sightings.

Meanwhile I’m left wondering is the Australian Native Sap Sucking Sea Slug, Elysia australis, actually uncommon or just elusive?

0458 Pic (Thelma Bridle)

If sea slugs are your thing, you might want to check out the report from the first Melbourne Sea Slug Census, held 21-22 April 2018.

#CitSciOz18 – An Australian Story

By Michelle Neil

It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly two months since the 2nd Australian Citizen Science Association Conference, #CitSciOz18 in Adelaide, South Australia. For six days I was constantly on the go – averaging around 3-4 hours of sleep per night.

#CitSciOz18 featured international keynote speakers Dr. Caren Cooper and Amy Robinson Sterling, along with Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr. Alan Finkel and Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science 2017 co-recipient Dr. Emilie Ens.  The aim of the conference was to showcase best practice in citizen science and share project outcomes from across Australia and the world. Every continent of the world, except Antarctica was represented too. North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa were all there as well as our mates from “across the ditch”, New Zealand. 

Opened by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel spoke about how a German migrant planted citizen science in Australian and why it worked. This was followed by plenaries, short talks, long talks, a podcast with The Wholesome Show, a public talk with Dr Caren Cooper and Amy Robinson Sterling (and little old me), radio interviews, live streaming talks to the ACSA Facebook page and twitter, watching Crowd and the Cloud episode, networking, poster session, chairing a session myself on the Friday afternoon, early morning (4am!) bat catching and tagging near Adelaide Zoo, plus post-conference tours to see Echidna CSI, #greatkoalacount, Wild Orchid Watch (#WOW), ReefWatchSA, breakfasts with new friends and old, lunches, dinners, great food, awesome people, lots of laughs and, of course, relaxing at the local wineries! 

In fact there were there were over 120 talks, posters and workshops falling within the conference themes of  #EngagingCitizens (20), #EmpowerWithData (19), #ShowcasingOutcomes (16), #Partnerships (15), #FieldProjects (14), #SocialResearch (8), #Education (6) and #Communication (4).  The conference was also mentioned more than 2000 times over the three conference days on Twitter as well as Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.  

 Where did it start? 

The planning process for #CitSciOz18 started well over a year ago. One of the first things the Conference Committee decided on was to try and make the conference as sustainable as possible. Plastic pens were out. Backpacks were out. People have their own backpacks and pens after all. Conference “swag”* as it is usually called was out. We even vetoed keep cups – who doesn’t have a few of them lying around? 

Instead it was decided to do a bamboo pen and paper for the conference and, as an added bonus, a t-shirt for all our members. The t-shirts, designed by Ellie Downing and Amy Slocombe with input from the Conference Committee, were a huge hit.  Featuring the tools of citizen science these shirts will soon be available on the ACSA website for anyone to buy. Perhaps at our next conference we might make badges or patches delegates can sew on to the t-shirt? Let us know if we missed anything and perhaps that could be the first badge! 

 

The official Australian Citizen Science Association shirt – it’s all about the tools of citizen science! Have we missed any? Photo: Michelle Neil

What’s Next? 

Last week I received all of the conference talks via email – audio and video in one continuous stream from 4 different lecture spaces at the University of South Australia. It is probably the largest download my computer has ever had to do. My next job as the volunteer social media moderator for ACSA is to edit all of the 100+ hours of speeches into their individual talks and upload them on to the new ACSA YouTube channel for everyone to enjoy.  

In early May the Conference Committee will meet to go over the conference feedback, discuss what we could do better next time and also start the decision process for #CitSciOz20. We hope to make the next conference bigger and better. Want to tell us how we can do better or even what we did well? Drop us a line. Interested in going to #CitSciOz20? Sign up for the newsletter. We promise we don’t spam! 

If you would like to read more about #CitSciOz18 grab a cuppa and put your feet up to read my colleague Jessie Oliver’s fantastic blog here. I recommend it for a truly great read!  You can also look at the #CitSciOz18 Twitter Moments too! 

As one of our delegates, Phyll Bartram from Kangaroo Island Victor Harbour Dolphin Watch said:  

“Sounds like…Looks like…. Feels like….CitSciOz18! What a buzz!!!!!! 💛” 

 

*swag has another meaning in Australia as some of our overseas guests found out. In Australia it means bedroll or sleeping bag or to travel with one’s personal belongings in a bundle. I have since found out it was originally an economic term which stood for Silver, Wine, Art and Gold.  I learn something new every day with #CitizenScience! 

Michelle Neil is the Australian Citizen Science Association’s volunteer social media moderator. Having worked in analytical chemistry for over a decade Michelle finds herself in an interesting place – a scientist as well as a citizen scientist, with a passion for science communication. @michelle_neil