You don't have to have studied for years to be a Citizen Scientist!

Citizen scientists are ordinary people with ordinary lives who are curious about the natural world and have a penchant for adventure, exploration and discovery! If you are interested in collecting information, taking photographs, making observations, and helping real scientists to find out more about the world in which we live, then you’re a citizen scientist.

“Citizen science has played a significant role in collecting biodiversity data in South Africa” says Ismail Ebrahim, Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) CFR Node Manager. “There are many examples of successful programmes that have generated impressive biodiversity datasets and contributed to distribution mapping, understanding population trends and conservation prioritization. Projects like the Bird Atlas, Protea Atlas, Southern African Reptiles and Amphibians (SARCA), Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) Programme, etc have demonstrated the value of citizen scientists to the conservation of our natural heritage. Advances in technology also provide new opportunities to connect and share observations and have made it possible to engage a wider community for more varied projects. These technologies and citizen science projects have engaged members of the public in innovative ways and provided many opportunities for informal education”.

International Citizen Science Day is on 14 April 2018 and, to celebrate, a free Citizen Science Fair will take place at the Old Mutual Conference Centre in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The Fair will showcase some of the wonderful projects that people can get involved in and create a platform for people to connect with these projects and hopefully inspire new citizen scientists to get involved.


Who or What is a Citizen Scientist?

A citizen scientist is a member of the public who participates in a scientific project as a volunteer and helps scientists with data collection, data analysis, reporting and photography, and sometimes even offers their skills free of charge, or assists with raising funds for projects. Citizen scientists often don't have science qualifications and are from all walks of life – students, retirees, and even prisoners get involved.   

The “citizen science” movement is gathering momentum, as scientists, policymakers, and the public themselves recognize that everyday people can make meaningful contributions to research.

What are some of the projects which Citizen Scientists can participate in?

The Two Oceans Aquarium, together with The Beach Co-op, has recently launched a citizen science project called Trash Bash which involves beach cleanups. Each cleanup will contribute to important scientific research by following the “Dirty Dozen” data collection method. The Dirty Dozen are the 12 litter items that are most commonly found on our beaches.

Armed with a checklist and a bucket you can contribute to the tracking of major ocean pollutants by revisiting the same beach four times during the year with Trash Bash. Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

These are: Carriers bags, chip packets, cigarette lighters, cooldrink bottles, cooldrink lids, earbuds, fishing line, lightsticks, plastic lollipop sticks, straws, sweet wrappers and water bottles. With this method, attendees work together in groups and record everything collected,  and at the end of each cleanup, the data will be collated and will contribute to research into the tracking of different sources of marine litter.

Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Nature At Your Fingertips

Explore and share your observations from the natural world on iNaturalist and at the same time contribute towards biodiversity science. To date, more than 8 million observations of 147,012 species have been recorded by over 600,000 people all over the world. Butterflies, birds, plants, insects, reptiles, and amphibians have been spotted and recorded.

For you, the Hartlaub's gull might be a common sight - one so common that you may not even think twice when seeing one. But, what might be a common, easy to identify bird for you, might not be so easy to ID for a scientist studying the spread of avian botulism on a different continent. You are already an expert in your common local animals - so put that expertise to good use on iNaturalist.

iSpot is a platform aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature, including plants, invertebrates, birds, fungi, fish, mammals and diseases.  Users can upload their observations, obtain an identification or help others to identify something they have spotted. They can also access forums, distribution maps, taxonomy, keys, surveys, and link to the Encyclopaedia of Life or the South African Red List for any species.  If you would like to be part of an iSpot bioblitz and join scholars, novices, scientists and conservationists and blitz a site to capture as many observations as possible, please contact

Various projects are linked to iSpot including SeaKeys, Fish for Life, Sea Fish Atlas, and the Sea Slug Atlas.  

Rivers are ecosystems brimming with life and for those who love exploring these water bodies, there is miniSASS. This is a simple tool which anyone can use to monitor the health of a river. Collect a sample of macroinvertebrates (small animals) from the water, and depending on which groups are found in the sample, you have a measure of the general river health and water quality in that river. Through miniSASS you can learn about rivers, monitor the water quality of rivers within your community, and explore reasons why the water quality may not be as clean as everyone would like.

The methods used for miniSASSstudy are so simple, even kids can get involved! Photo courtesy of Living Labs/Twitter.

Frogs are indicators of water quality. Frogs and toads have sensitive skin through which they can absorb water and oxygen. Due to this sensitivity, they like clean water and air. Citizen scientists can help frogs and toads by participating in the Frog Atlas. This project is a citizen science project which aims to determine the distribution and conservation priorities of Amphibians on the African continent. FrogMAP is building the 21st-century distribution maps for Africa's frogs.  

Marine citizen scientists

Divers can also contribute to citizen science. Cape RADD (Research and Diver Development) calls on divers to participate in marine monitoring programmes and offers courses for divers who want to gain a deeper understanding and knowledge of the marine environment. Cape RADD offers three opportunities for citizen scientist divers – a kelp forest fish identification snorkel, snorkelling with the seals, and free-diving with the seven-gill cow sharks of Shark Alley. According to Mike Barron, the Course Director, “Citizen science is still a relatively new, fast developing and exciting area of modern-day scientific research. By engaging an ever curious and enthusiastic general public in the conservation issues we face, we believe for many areas of study this is one of the most effective ways in which wildlife enthusiasts can get involved and help make a real difference as well as learn new knowledge and spread awareness!” 

Armed with wetsuits and slates, Cape RADD invites scuba divers and snorkellers of all skill levels to take part in their Citizen Science Day Bioblitz. Photo courtesy of Cape RADD.

Divers can also participate in Ocean Sanctuaries seven-gill shark identification project.  According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the seven-gill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) is a data-deficient species and no previous baseline population studies had been conducted. Ocean Sanctuaries has undertaken a long-term, five-to-10-year population dynamics study of this species and divers can assist the researchers by photographing the lateral side of the head, without endangering either the animal or the diver’s safety, as the shark passes by.

Simply by taking a photo of the unique markings on a seven-gill shark, divers are able to upload their images to an artificial intelligence called WildBook, which enables the tracking of animals simply by their markings. Credit: Aaron Scheiner (CC BY-SA 4.0)

International Citizen Science Day is on 14 April 2018

WHEN: Saturday 14 April 2018 from 09h00 to 17h00

WHERE: Old Mutual Conference Centre in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

ENTRANCE: Entry is free to the fair, but does not include free entry to the Kirstenbosch garden.

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