Citizen science: People making a difference in their community and across the state

Everyday, people from across the state are contributing to our knowledge and understanding of Michigan’s bountiful natural resources as citizen scientists.

Citizen scientists are people who volunteer their time to collect information that scientists may often use to figure out what is going on in the environment. Collectively, volunteer citizen scientists can provide the hours needed to aid scientists and other paid professionals in gathering large amounts of information that may otherwise be limited because of the sheer number of hours needed for the task. Being a citizen scientist can be rewarding for the volunteer as they gain hands-on experience, network with potential future employers, learn about ecological principles and procedures, and contribute to projects that can lead to meaningful solutions to complicated environmental problems. Michigan Sea Grant works with numerous organizations who offer opportunities for interested people to get involved in citizen science.

What to expect:  Volunteer opportunities can include assisting with data collection and/or data entry, making field observations, monitoring and other testing. You may work a single day, collect information over a period of time or contribute your occasional observations and photos collected as you are out and about. Skills needed by volunteers also vary. Some require advanced skills that are learned through college courses or professional experience; however, most opportunities provide training or require no special skills.

Making a difference:  In the Detroit area, citizen scientists have worked with Michigan Sea Grant and conservation partners to conduct wildlife inventories, document frog and toad presence, band birds and search for aquatic insects. The data gathered by volunteers is used to determine management strategies, understand wildlife populations, and gauge water quality.

Getting started: Begin by thinking about how much time you want to dedicate, what special skills you may have, and contact local environmental groups, nature centers, parks, and government agencies to ask if they have any opportunities. Talk with the staff about what your passions are, the types of volunteer opportunities they have available, and how the information will be used.

Check back monthly for this article series, as we highlight different volunteer opportunities from our partner organizations and volunteers who are making a difference.

Part II