Improving Understanding of Drought Impacts in Coastal Ecosystems through Citizen Science

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Monday, 3 February 2014: 11:30 AM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Amanda Brennan, Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, Columbia, SC; and B. Haywood, K. Lackstrom, and K. Dow

Drought effects on coastal environmental resources are not as well-understood or as well-integrated into existing drought management and response processes as other sectors and resources (e.g. agriculture, surface water supplies). Key concerns related to drought and coastal ecosystems focus on impacts to water quality and quantity, habitats, species, and estuarine processes. In addition, monitoring and reporting efforts, which could improve understanding and inform drought planning and management, are limited.

This project seeks to further understanding of the usefulness of citizen science engagement as a means to increase drought impacts monitoring and reporting. We are using existing tools developed by the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), a national, non-profit, community-based network of local volunteer precipitation reporters, to engage target groups in drought impacts reporting.

Citizen science is gaining attention as an effective means to support the collection of ecological data and increase participants' awareness and understanding of the environment. Current drought impact reporting efforts rely primarily on volunteers, but studies to identify and assess best practices and approaches to support impact reporting are few. Therefore, in addition to generating useful precipitation and drought impact monitoring data, this research project will evaluate multiple aspects of volunteer engagement and reporting practices.

Project participants include Master Naturalists in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina, members of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, and current CoCoRaHS observers. Members of these communities have an existing interest in weather and related impacts based on their relationships with the environment. For example, many members of the Gullah/Geechee community are subsistence farmers and fishermen, whose livelihood is influenced by local weather conditions, particularly drought which affects the shrimp and shellfish they harvest. Minority groups, such as the Gullah/Geechee, have historically been underrepresented in participatory sciences.

Participant feedback and evaluation of the project will contribute to further understanding of why certain groups or individuals participate in citizen science, differences in interpretation and documentation of environmental phenomenon, and motivation to participate among various groups, including those that have been historically underrepresented. As the project progresses, it is hoped that research will also yield clues regarding strategies that might increase the involvement of underrepresented groups in participatory science.