Dr Hadayet Ullah
The ocean covers over 70 per cent of the Earth's surface and is vital for sustaining life. It produces over 50 per cent of the planet's oxygen, supports biodiversity, and provides protein for billions of people. It also has significant economic value.
However, escalating human activities such as overfishing, pollution, and climate change are exerting mounting stress on ocean resources. Therefore, the ocean needs support and conservation efforts to preserve its health.
We must restore balance to the sea, as we are depleting its resources faster than they can be replenished.
Researchers, non-governmental organisations, and governmental entities are collaborating to strategically prioritise the ocean while tackling numerous issues that it encounters in contemporary times. They cannot, however, do it alone.
Volunteers play an important role in protecting ocean resources. These individuals leave a legacy through their profession, altruism, or advocacy. Worldwide, citizen scientists are also referred to as volunteers.
In other words, citizen scientists volunteer to participate in scientific research projects to collect valuable scientific data. These data can be used to make a meaningful impact on scientific research and environmental decision-making.
Citizen scientists may have yet to receive formal scientific training, but they are passionate about the environment and dedicated to learning more.
We need citizen scientists because our ability to collect data vastly outstrips our needs. The contribution of citizen scientists has never been more crucial than now to improving governmental and scientific capacities to make informed decisions regarding the environment.
The United Nations Environment Program recognises the potential of citizen science in marine conservation for monitoring biodiversity, climate change, and pollution.
Jillian Campbell, who serves as the UN Environment Programme’s statistician overseeing the tracking of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has noted that approximately 68 per cent of SDG indicators related to the environment need more data for tracking global progress.
Therefore, relying solely on conventional data sources will never suffice for monitoring the environmental aspect of the SDGs.
Citizens science initiatives like the Reef Life Survey enlist volunteers to survey coral reefs worldwide, providing useful information about the health and biodiversity of the ecosystems. Some programs monitor marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, or trace the movements of sea turtles.
A traditional volunteer may also conduct surveys of plants and animals, but these are separate from scientific research. People can volunteer by participating in beach cleanups, marine mammal rescues, public education programs, weeding, planting trees, and many other activities that benefit our natural environment.
Essentially, volunteers assist conservation efforts in various ways, whether they are trained or untrained. A good example is the Sea Turtle Watch program that the Barbados Sea Turtle Project runs. Volunteers conduct night patrols on beaches during nesting season to oversee and safeguard nesting sea turtles.
Efforts to conserve aquatic resources in Bangladesh have gained momentum through the initiatives of organisations such as ECOFISH II. This USAID-funded project has been at the forefront of community-led conservation initiatives in coastal areas, successfully reducing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and improving marine resource management practices.
Citizen scientists and trained boat skippers have been instrumental in releasing marine megafauna caught during fishing expeditions. These individuals have been trained and equipped with smartphones to document their efforts.
Maritime mammal rescue and rehabilitation are also important components of conservation efforts. When marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, and seals become stranded or injured, trained volunteers and professionals work tirelessly to save them.
ECOFISH-trained fishers have rescued and released about 43 megafaunas, including 37 olive ridley turtles, four skates and rays, one Irrawaddy dolphin, and one porpoise.
Fishermen report that they have helped rescue and release many other animals, but photographic evidence is often absent. Fishermen generally avoid taking mobile phones with photo-taking capabilities to sea due to the risk of damage.
These volunteers also help with beach cleanups, including removing ghost gear, and public education programs in Bangladesh. Every year, millions of individuals participate in beach cleanups around the world. In this way, they prevent these items from entering the ocean, harming marine life, and destroying habitats.
Participating in beach cleanups is also an excellent way to connect with nature and contribute positively to your community. Although citizen science and volunteer programs have effectively preserved marine resources, some challenges come with them. One of the biggest challenges is funding.
Volunteer and citizen science programs have proven effective in conserving ocean resources, but they pose some challenges. A major challenge is funding.
Most citizen science and volunteer programs depend on grants and donations, but funding can be unpredictable. This makes it difficult to sustain programs over time.
The quality and reliability of data collected by citizen scientists and volunteers is another challenge. Proper training, monitoring, and supporting volunteers are essential to effectively address this issue.
Even with these challenges, citizen science and volunteer programs remain integral to ocean resource conservation. People can notably influence their local communities and support worldwide efforts to protect the oceans by taking action.
Acting locally and globally to protect our oceans can make an important difference in people's lives. Marine conservation volunteerism is crucial to protecting our oceans and their resources. Their dedication and hard work make a difference in combating pollution, overfishing, and climate change.
We can ensure our ocean resources remain healthy and productive for future generations by continuing to support and involve our community.
The author is currently working at WorldFish, an international fish and aquaculture research organisation, as a Scientist (Fisheries Co-management)