Banking on freshwater education through citizen science programs

FreshWater Watch

Biology Professor Sapna Sharma from the Faculty of Science at York University teamed up with Paul Frost, a biology professor at Trent University, and Earthwatch, to offer citizen science training sessions on the Keele campus for employees of the HSBC Bank.

The training was part of FreshWater Watch, an initiative created by Earthwatch as part of its contribution to the HSBC Water Program, a five-year, $100-million partnership funded by HSBC bank involving three non-governmental organizations WaterAid, the World Wildlife Fund and Earthwatch. The initiative will see some 7,500 HSBC employees across four continents involved in one-day citizen science training sessions combining classroom and outdoor presentations.

FreshWater Watch citizen scientists learn about how to assess and sample the health of the Stong Pond on the Keele campus.
HSBC employees learn more about water catchment at the Stong Pond on the Keele campus

Last month, 14 HSBC employees from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) came to Keele campus, where they were introduced to a variety of ecosystems and environmental issues. The budding scientists learned how to correctly sample and assess the health of the Stong Pond, which serves as a catchment area for storm water and prevents flooding during heavy rains. Once trained, these citizen scientists will collect data on the quality and biodiversity of freshwater sources in their communities. Their samples will be sent to Sharma and Frost for analysis and inclusion in a global database.

For Sharma, the training program is an important way to tap into the power of citizen science. “This is an exciting endeavour as it raises York’s profile in the broader community about one of the University’s ecological resources that is right on campus,” said Sharma. “It’s so cool to conduct outreach and teach members of the financial services community about water quality and how to conserve and maintain it.”

The data collected from FreshWater Watch participants will be analyzed and the results used to understand the spatial and temporal patterns of water quality in urban ponds. The data will also help scientists such as Sharma and Trent learn more on how water quality in the GTA improves or degrades with urban catchment use.  In addition, HSBC employees in 32 cities around the world will conduct data sampling in the same way.  This will allow scientists to better understand the variation and factors influencing water quality in urban environments around the world.

“Citizen science empowers ordinary people to connect with the vision behind the research and allows scientists to tap into alternative sources of funding. Connecting people with hands-on science opportunities also helps demystify science and makes it accessible to everyone,” said Larry Mason, EarthWatch CEO . “It is a cost-effective approach to research that allows scientists to obtain vast amounts of information on land, water and species, which is used to build our understanding of how humans are impacting the planet.”

Earthwatch is an international non-governmental organization that engages people around the world in the FreshWater Watch project – a global program which recruits and trains citizen scientists to research and learn about freshwater to safeguard the quality and supply of the world’s most precious and vital resource.