The first conference has been held to bring together Polar field staff, featuring members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operations (IAATO) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO).
The two Polar Regions were represented by governments, universities and the WWF along with IAATO and AECO members.
Joint enthusiasm for citizen science and outreach to the public was the major outcome.
Tourism to Antarctica, after a period of downturn, is diversifying. Kim Crosbie, Executive Director of IAATO, explained that “People’s desire for ‘new’ activities coupled with advances in technology can create the potential for the diversification of activities”. She cited unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and their potential for conducting surveys as examples of technology that can allow tourists to conduct citizen science.
Citizen science is also highlighted as a way of combatting the incompleteness of certain official surveys, specifically with whales in the Southern Ocean.
Image credit: Ville Miettinen / Flickr
Citizen science has been shown to contribute massive amounts of data to scientific institutions and to open source platforms, for instance on air quality. People give up many hours of time to work on projects, which in Europe mainly focus on animal biodiversity.
This enthusiasm from the Polar community has the potential to bring such resources to regions that need more data. This could greatly benefit conservation effects and help track the impacts of climate change.
However there are two stumbling blocks:
1. The work must be able to engage with the citizen scientists themselves, in the form of feedback and showing where their work has made a difference.
2. The data should actually be used. Only 12% of the projects looked at in one European Commission study provided data to peer reviewed articles
Despite this potential, does the rise of polar tourism (the bulk of which contributes nothing to citizen science) present a threat to these fragile regions? Ever larger ships with more and more passengers are passing through polar seas.
Could citizen science really help maintain these ecosystems?
Maritime Executive (October 15, 2015) Polar Operators Keen on Citizen Science
Grid Adrenal (2014) Tourism in the Polar Regions