Biology Professors Roberto Quinlan, from the Faculty of Science at York University, and Paul Frost, from Trent University, are working with the Earthwatch Institute to offer citizen science training sessions on York University’s Keele campus.
Earthwatch’s Freshwater Watch program was initiated under the HSBC Water Programme, a five-year, US$100-million global partnership between HSBC, Earthwatch, WaterAid and the World Wildlife Fund. Through this citizen-led initiative, trained volunteers around the world collect scientific data from freshwater ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, which will then be used to inform local and global freshwater research and policies. Earthwatch has pledged to engage thousands of HSBC employees across four continents in one-day training sessions combining classroom and outdoor presentations, anticipating that the program will eventually collect data from 35,000 locations around the world.
As a part of the Freshwater Watch program, 18 volunteers employed at HSBC Bank Canada locations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) attended a Citizen Science Leader training day held earlier this summer at the Keele campus. Quinlan and Frost talked to the volunteers about river and pond ecosystems and outlined the numerous environmental issues that threaten the quality of freshwater resources.
“Citizen science programs are a powerful tool for environmental scientists,” said Quinlan, “as many pairs of hands will collect more data, from many more sites, than even the most hard-working scientist could ever hope to collect on their own.”
Participants also received training on how to correctly sample and assess the water quality of a local pond or stream. The group received hands-on training at Stong Pond, a campus pond in the southwest corner of the Keele campus, which, like many ponds in the GTA, reduces the likelihood of flooding by collecting storm water during heavy rains. Once trained, these citizen scientists head back to their communities to collect local data on water quality at ponds throughout the GTA, including water samples for chemical analyses. Their samples will be sent to lead researchers for analysis and inclusion in a global database of freshwater quality.
“Citizen science is a great way not only to collect vast amounts of data, but it is also a great way to educate people and get them involved in their local community,” said Earthwatch Program Manager Diana Eddowes. “The Freshwater Watch program connects scientists with everyday people, making science more accessible and helping to infuse science and sustainability into people’s everyday decisions.”
Through the Citizen Science Leader training day, HSBC employees in 25 cities around the world have learned to collect data using the same techniques. This standardized training allows scientists from Earthwatch to build global data sets to better understand the variation and factors influencing water quality in urban environments around the world. The data collected from Freshwater Watch participants will be used to help scientists learn more about how urban land use affects water quality, including the fresh waters of the GTA.
“As the population of the GTA continues to grow, there will be greater pressures on the water quality of our ponds and streams,” said Quinlan. “It is important for research centres like York University to be involved in community-based efforts to learn more about conserving and maintaining the quality of our fresh waters.”
Earthwatch, an international non-governmental organization, is engaging people around the world in its FreshWater Watch project – a global program that recruits and trains citizen scientists to research and learn about fresh water to safeguard the quality and supply of the most precious and vital resource.