Rhode Island Natural History Survey Celebrates 25th Anniversary with Citizen Science

By ecoRI News staff

The annual BioBlitz is the Rhode Island Natural History Survey’s signature citizen science event. (ecoRI News)

The annual BioBlitz is the Rhode Island Natural History Survey’s signature citizen science event. (ecoRI News)

Last month a group of wildlife enthusiasts met at Rocky Point Park in Warwick, R.I., to count seals along the Narragansett Bay shoreline. The gathering of Rhode Island Natural History Survey citizen scientists-in-training joined July Lewis, Save The Bay’s volunteer manager, and Janet O’Connell, volunteer seal monitor, to participate in the day’s counting of seals.

Since 1994, Save The Bay volunteers have observed and recorded the presence, and species, of seals at haul-out sites around the bay throughout the winter season.

This activity is citizen science: volunteers recording observations and providing them to a scientist building a data base of information. For data-gathering tasks that are labor intensive or need to come from many far-flung sites, citizen science is a way to crowd source the work. Citizen science also is an excellent way to connect people, regardless of age and vocation, who are interested in nature and natural history.

The Rhode Island Natural History Survey was founded in 1994 to connect people knowledgeable about the state’s animals, plants, and natural communities with each other and with people who can use that information for research, education, or conservation. Over the years, the organization has accomplished this mission by producing occasional publications, by facilitating ongoing research by partners in academic, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations, and by hosting conferences and other networking gatherings conducive to sharing information.

The Natural History Survey also acts as a directory and repository of Rhode Island natural history records.

In the 25 years of the Natural History Survey’s existence much has changed. The environment has undergone dramatic changes which are often first noted by the absence or presence of plant and animal species. In addition, computer-based tools have so evolved that complete data sets can now be developed, maintained, and documented by anyone with a mobile phone. Both of these factors have spurred the growing utilization of — and, interest in — citizen science. Whether it’s helping Save The Bay count seals, assisting herring up a river to spawn, documenting king tides for the Coastal Resources Management Council, or tagging monarch butterflies for Monarch Watch, there is likely a citizen science opportunity to pique everyone’s interest.

Embracing, demonstrating, and highlighting the contributions of citizen scientist programs is a a perfect way to honor and acknowledge the past 25 years of Natural History Survey efforts. This year, the organization will be celebrating its commitment to connect knowledgeable people with each other and put their knowledge of the state’s environment to use with a monthly citizen science awareness initiative.

January’s citizen science pairing was with Save The Bay’s seal monitoring program.

In February, the Natural History Survey will lead a bird walk on the grounds of their offices at the University of Rhode Island’s East Farm, as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science initiative led by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. This program will be comprised of two parts: a bird walk led by local birders Bob Kenney and Kim Gaffett, followed by entering the observations into the interactive Great Backyard Bird Count website, which will be recording bird observation from all over the world during the Feb. 15-18 event.

To sign up for this free event on Feb. 16 at 10 a.m., send an e-mail to programadmin@rinhs.org.