“We’re losing the battle against the poachers this year” – the coronavirus pandemic shows how important international citizen science has become in conservation

As hypercapitalism and its proponents increase their grip on the planet, funding for conservation projects has been slashed in recent years. International citizen science projects have picked up the slack in many places. Now the coronavirus crisis is threatening this new pillar of conservation efforts.

Citizen science is defined as public participation in scientific research. Outcomes are often advancements in scientific research, as well as an increase in the public’s understanding of science. In nature conservation in particular, international citizen science has become increasingly important as a duel stream of data and funding. An example of this is Biosphere Expeditions, an international non-profit NGO at the forefront of wildlife conservation driven by citizen science.

Effects of the Covid-19 crisis have now become apparent in a scientific report of the NGO’s sea turtle conservation project in Costa Rica. International citizen scientists are critical to the success of the project, which in 2019 saved 67% of leatherback and green turtle nests from poachers at the Pacuare beach study site on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastline. In 2020, without international volunteers helping due to the pandemic, this number has dropped to 47% so far. “This means we’re losing the battle against the poachers this year”, says conservation biologist Dr. Matthias Hammer, the NGO’s founder and executive director.

Elsewhere around the planet, the picture is similar. In Kenya, the NGO together with its local protected area partner Enonkishu Conservancy is facing a double whammy: “Rangers have to go part-time because of the collapse of tourism income and at the same time there is increased poaching as people hard hit by the pandemic are desperate for food”, explains Hammer. “We have started an appeal to alleviate the situation, but this global crisis has made things very tough indeed.”

And further, “in the German federal state of Lower Saxony , where we work in wolf conservation, we are expecting a drop of 50% or more in data collection due to the lack of international citizen scientists; this means that we will know much less about wolf numbers, packs and ecology in the area”, says Hammer. Because hard data are the basis for making fact-based strategic conservation decisions, these may have to be delayed or based on insufficient evidence this year.

“And this is even before we talk about funding and economic incentives created by citizen science projects”, says Hammer. Projects provide funding for rangers, research and other conservation activities year-round. In addition, citizen scientists need to be fed, housed, guided, etc. This creates income and economic incentives for local communities, based on intact nature. “This is especially important since it is now clear that the destruction of nature causes pandemics“, Hammer adds.

But there is a silver lining. People are starting to realise that citizen science is a powerful tool for tackling conservation challenges. “When we started 20 years ago, we were often belittled and looked down upon”, says Hammer. “This has changed over the years and it seems that Covid-19 has really made people sit up and realise the power and potential of citizen science. So the virus is both a chance and a challenge”, concludes Hammer.

Biosphere Expeditions is a wildlife conservation non-profit first and foremost, driven by science and citizen scientist.

Our planet is in crisis, with nature under attack like never before. We believe everyone has the power to change this. We are mindful of nature and empower people through citizen science and hands-on wildlife conservation. We are a non-profit, visionary, award-winning and ethical conservation organisation. We are a member of the IUCN, the UN’s Environment Programme and the European Citizen Science Association. Working hand-in-hand with local biologists and communities since 1999, we champion change and protect nature. And we succeed – the creation of protected areas on four continents is just one example.

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