Citizen Science Corner: Summer 2019

(NEWSLETTER – Summer 2019)

Citizen Science Corner: Partnerships Matter


If you pick up the latest issue of Saltwater Sportsman magazine, you’ll lay eyes on a call to bottom fishermen, particularly those who encounter scamp grouper. The Council’s Citizen Science Program just launched a pilot project for the species and the word continues to spread through media channels, word of mouth, and partners. The Council’s Citizen Science Program has been fortunate to have guidance from a wide array of stakeholders and partners throughout its development. Without their volunteer time, efforts, and diverse expertise, it would not have been possible to lay the groundwork and support needed for a successful Program or to get pilot projects started in a relatively short timeframe.


So how did we even get to this point? Let us tell you a bit about some of the people who helped make it happen.


The Council’s initial efforts with citizen science began with the creation of an Organizing Committee to plan and convene a Citizen Science Program Design Workshop, held in January 2016. Through this Committee and the efforts of Leda Cunningham with the PEW Charitable Trusts, a key partnership was built with citizen science experts Rick Bonney and Jennifer Shirk. Rick, with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Jennifer, currently with the Citizen Science Association, taught the Committee about the field of citizen science and helped refine the workshop approach. They have continued to provide guidance and advice throughout the development of the Program and pilot projects while also connecting us to the broader citizen science community. Amber Von Harten served as the first Citizen Science Program Manager and was instrumental in developing the program and initial pilot projects.


Partnerships were key to the success of the Citizen Science Program Design Workshop. The workshop, held in Charleston, SC, brought together over 60 diverse stakeholders from around the South Atlantic region. Participation from such a wide group would not have been possible without each state Sea Grant Program in the South Atlantic supporting travel for several fishermen and NOAA Fisheries supporting participation from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, the Southeast Regional Office, and the Office of Science and Technology staff. Having such a diverse group of constituents provide input was also critical to the development of the Citizen Science Program Blueprint, which outlined the framework to build a collaborative Citizen Science Program based on workshop participants’ recommendations.


To implement the Program Blueprint, the Council again relied on partnerships, establishing volunteer stakeholder Action Teams to develop policies and recommendations in five key areas of program development: communication/outreach/education, data management, finance and infrastructure, projects, and volunteers. The “A-Teams” comprised a diverse group of stakeholders representing 40 different organizations or entities. Over the course of one year, these teams held over 50 virtual meetings, totaling over 400 volunteer hours spent on webinars and calls. This incredible number of hours would likely double if you accounted for the work accomplished outside of meetings!


As we move forward, we plan to continue our focus on collaboration with partners. We’ll need help from a wide swath of stakeholders to participate in and/or develop project ideas and proposals that help address the Council’s Citizen Science research priorities. Our initial pilot project, SAFMC Scamp Release, came together through the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP), Harbor Light Software, and fiscal sponsor, the Citizen Science Association. Action Teams helped develop extensive communication plans and outreach materials for the SAFMC Release project. And a Project Design Team was created to bring together partners with diverse expertise to help develop the SAFMC Release mobile app, data requirements and management plan, and project goals and objectives. Once the app was ready for beta testing, Action Team members and fishermen helped to improve the design of SAFMC Release, streamlining the data collection process. Now that the SAFMC Scamp Release pilot project has launched, partners are helping to promote the project, connecting us to fishermen, and/or participating in the project themselves. To everyone involved, we say a BIG Thank You!

One of the biggest lessons learned so far in the Council’s citizen science efforts is that collaboration and partnership will be critical to the success of the Program and projects. We are lucky to have so many amazing organizations, agencies, and fishermen in the South Atlantic region who are interested and invested in moving this Program forward. We look forward to strengthening the partnerships we have while fostering new relationships as the Program progresses.


To keep up with the Citizen Science Program or receive information about getting involved in projects, please fill out the online form HERE to provide us with your contact info and join the email distribution list!

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