Citizen science for a healthy future
Date of publication: Feb 28, 2023

Humanity is at a crossroad, and if the correct path is chosen, a prosperous and safe future is still possible. For that to happen, society needs to make decisions based on what evidence suggests are the most efficient solutions for mitigating the climate crisis we are facing.
Having access to a wide range of worldwide scientific literature, which can support qualified debates on integrating local and global participation on actions at different scales, the safe road is still walkable. If, however, during this decade, our civilization fails to take the necessary urgent actions, already existing crises and social inequalities will become worse, and the planet’s ecosystems health will greatly suffer. This is, unfortunately, a very possible future scenario, reinforcing the need for urgent joint action.

The advanced state of degradation of marine coastal ecosystems and underwater forests is undoubtable. And the need to preserve remaining habitats and restore the ones that have been lost, while their natural functions and benefits are still healthy, is imperative. For that, it is necessary to understand the need for ecosystem restoration movements, which can only be efficient through widespread social engagement, and effective local, regional and national policies.

It is therefore urgent, now more than ever, to promote strategies that deepen the bond between society and science. Citizen science is a collective construction of knowledge that strengthens ties between the different social stakeholders and academia, facilitating the integration of more people in diagnosing and monitoring programs. Through this collective and communitarian action, it becomes easier to promote social engagement in the development and application of necessary solutions for marine conservation and restoration.

School classes that participated in citizen science projects, Lagoa da Conceição, Florianópolis

Citizen science has been growing as a method to promote the active involvement of communities in the scientific process, from reflecting on the issues at hand and developing testable hypothesis and questions, to developing methods for data collection and analysis.

In schools, where the young generation, which will become the future adult generation, meets, citizen science strengthens transversal actions and promotes debate and citizen engagement in thinking about the new tomorrow. Schools should be seen as catalysts in mobilizing the communities in which they exist, through the active engagement of families and neighbors, and by connecting people from different age groups, backgrounds and with different perspectives.

Our project aims at enabling a transversal and critical-type teaching, with a focus on finding solutions for local issues. By engaging school children and teenagers, we are fostering collective and collaborative actions between scientists and citizens. Their need to understand, preserve and restore our ecosystems, will come from an appreciation of cultural knowledge and from an understanding that it is possible to live in harmony with nature as our ancestors did, back when our resources came from our backyard and the ecosystems where they lived.

Young children learning about marine forests in the field and in class, Florianópolis

We believe that understanding the past local socio-ecosystems and how they slowly transformed over Capitalocene pressures, and questioning the future we collectively want as a society, is the path to promoting future sustainable and effective solutions to fight the climate and environmental emergencies. We hope to provide a new perspective on producing knowledge about the current state of our marine socio-ecosystem’s health, and in finding different ways to address and recover it’s important and diverse functions in the global ocean.

Written by Paulo Horta (UFSC), translated by Maria Pinto