by Tara Tiger Brown

April 17, 2017

How To Become A Citizen Scientist And Save Wildlife

When you think of drones, hidden cameras or satellite imaging, monitoring wildlife is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But these, along with other technologies, have been crucial in transforming how we see the natural world.

Technological advancements have made wildlife monitoring and research scalable, more precise, comprehensive, less invasive, and cost effective.

Data that we collect by monitoring wildlife assists in estimating endangered species populations, understanding animal behavior, mapping migration patterns and managing natural resources.


The Internet of Wildlife Monitoring

Although the use of cameras, trackers and underwater monitoring devices has been widespread for decades, the improvements in battery time, size, cost and tracking capabilities enabled these instruments to enter what is called the “age of big data”. Remote cameras or acoustic recorders don’t require a human operator, as pictures and audio recordings are captured and transmitted wirelessly. This allows devices to be monitoring ecosystems in the same place for weeks or months. With ever smaller trackers and higher-precision GPS systems, sensors can be used in a wider range of species, while also being less invasive.

Scientists studying elephant seals in the Indian Ocean described the use of a device that not only provided information on their migration patterns, but also performed a series of measurements of the environment through which these animals were moving. The use of tracking devices which can also perform environmental measurements opens the door to the possibility to know not only where a species has been, but also details of the conditions faced by them, providing data fundamental for climate and oceanographic research.

Scientists are Monitoring Wildlife From Space

Satellite technology is another important piece of this endeavor, and contributes in three different ways: (1) data transmission (2) aerial images, and (3) GPS positioning systems. Using satellites to transmit data is necessary for species like turtles, which migrate through large distances and therefore can’t be monitored with shorter-range radio tracking systems. The images obtained from cameras fixed to an orbiting satellite 450 kilometers (280 miles) overhead are being used to track and count animals including elephants and polar bears.

Drones Are Catching Poachers 

The introduction of new technologies has also made a big impact: especially unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), usually known as drones. They are now widely used with diverse purposes such as watching for elephant poachers, counting orangutans and monitoring deforestation. They can be more precise than other methods, and it is argued that if used correctly, can be less invasive and stressful to wildlife.

3 Ways You Can Monitor Wildlife

One of the most significant outcomes of this technological evolution is that wildlife monitoring and research has become more inclusive, and there are many possibilities for everyone to contribute. Whether you are indoors or outdoors, using specific monitoring equipment or your personal gadgets, there is an option for you to take part.

Below we outline three different ways for you to contribute to wildlife monitoring.

1. Relaxing On Your Couch

The cameras, satellites, sensors and trackers are producing more data than research teams can possibly analyze, but thanks to the internet they can be easily shared with a much larger group of people that can help analyze and process this information.

How to monitor wildlife from the couch
  • Both Bat Detectives and Condor Watchers are looking for people who will look at photos to help understand issues these endangered wildlife populations are facing. 

2. Using Your Smartphone

In between snapping selfies, how about using your smartphone for uploading environmental data? Citizens can collect data that is useful for scientists and nature enthusiasts with the use of smartphone apps that help identify, catalog and share information.

How To Monitor Wildlife With A Smartphone
  • The annual Great Backyard Bird Count utilizes apps such as BirdsEye. The data that is uploaded provides valuable information on bird populations, distribution and migration patterns.
  • What’s Invasive! app aims to identify and catalog invasive species.
  • Project Noah is a platform for documenting and sharing information on a wide variety of wildlife.
  • WildMe hosts several projects, including one to monitor and share whale sharks sightings.
  • Dolphin and Whale 911 app will enhance accurate and timely reporting of stranded marine mammals in the Southeastern U.S.

3. Monitoring With Scientific-Grade Equipment

As monitoring equipment gets smaller, cheaper and easier to use, it is also becoming increasingly easy for schools, communities, families and individuals to obtain monitoring equipment that can be just as good as the ones used by research scientists

NatureBytes Wildlife Cam Kit
  • NatureBytes - we have assembled the Wildlife Cam Kit and have it monitoring and snapping pics of birds that come to our feeder. NatureBytes is using the photos taken to study and help protect important animals.
  • Hydrophone (Underwater Microphone) Kit  - This low-cost DIY hydrophone will enable you listen to things that are happening in your local fishing hole, a river or lake or even an ocean. You can record these sounds and then share them with scientists identifying underwater species.

Share Your Project

We've only scratched the surface of wildlife monitoring that is happening around the globe. Do you have a project that you would like to share? Please link to it in the comments below!

About the author 

Tara Tiger Brown

Tara Tiger Brown is a technologist and author exploring the intersection of the environment, education, and wellbeing.

As founder and CEO of KitHub, she develops STEAM education programs focused on hands-on learning and environmental monitoring.

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