MDI Biological Laboratory
Citizen Science

Anecdata.org: Citizen Science keeps us connected while we’re apart

  • April 23, 2020

MDI Biological Laboratory has moved quickly to continue providing opportunities for educational experiences and public engagement in scientific research. Anecdata.org, our online citizen science platform, is just one way we’re increasing our connectivity with like-minded people while we all need to stay apart to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Based out of our Community Lab, which focuses on environmental health research and citizen engagement in science, Anecdata.org was developed by MDI Biological Laboratory’s Cait Bailey and Dr. Jane Disney.

Originally designed a new as a new web interface to host data for just one Community Lab project monitoring eelgrass here in Frenchman’s Bay, Maine, Anecdata has grown into a full web platform that now hosts 180 projects worldwide.

Anecdata’s growth, 2014-present
A map of all observations collected on Anecdata.org, 2014-present

Anecdata provides individuals and organizations with a web-based and mobile solution for gathering and accessing observations while providing a platform to easily collect, manage, and share citizen science data. As we continue to develop the platform and provide new advanced functionality, the Anecdata community has also continued to grow – Anecdata is now used by almost 7,000 users who have shared more than 40,000 project observations.

Powering research worldwide

Anecdata continues to be the power behind a number of MDI Biological Laboratory’s own research efforts, including water quality monitoring, swim beach monitoring, and the NIH-funded All About Arsenic project which engages schoolchildren in sampling their home drinking water for arsenic levels.  

Anecdata also powers many other organizations’ research and volunteer outreach efforts, including South Carolina Aquarium’s Litter-Free Digital

Anecdata also powers many other organizations’ research and volunteer outreach efforts, including South Carolina Aquarium’s Litter-Free Digital Journal project, which to date has collected hundreds of thousands of debris items from waterways in South Carolina,
Mass Audubon’s Residential Bird Window Collision project, and the Conservation Biology Institute’s Fire Scar Recovery project.

Keeping us connected in the time of COVID

When community events across the world were canceled due to COVID-19, hindering engagement and physically distancing people, the Anecdata team realized the value and significance of Anecdata as a tool that could be keep us all connected. By participating in a citizen science project, people (perhaps you, even!) are able to learn, explore, collect, share, and discuss data all from the safety of their homes, backyards and neighborhoods. 

April 1st kicked off the start of Citizen Science Month (#CitizenScienceMonth) and the Anecdata team have been busy engaging with those interested in using the platform. We hosted a webinar to instruct teachers, community organizations, and outdoor educators in how to use Anecdata as a unique way to engage citizens and students. With over 20 participants from in North America and Europe, it was great to connect with new users as well as existing projects such as the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Virginia Working Landscapes project and a group of white-water kayakers working to document at-risk rivers.

Although times like these may seem uncertain, this period of social distancing provides us all with an opportunity to pause, reflect, and engage with activities we might not otherwise be able to. With this in mind, you may want to check out some of the following projects which you can do anywhere using just your smartphone!

Wikimedia Commons

Mass Audubon’s Residential Bird-Window Collision Monitoring

Collisions with windows are a widespread cause of bird mortalities, but scientists at Massachusetts Audubon are trying to find out more about what extent private residences are responsible for bird mortalities. Anyone in New England is invited to monitor their home’s windows for bird collisions over the summer to build a better understanding of how often these collisions occur.

Gulf of Maine King Tides

Clear-weather flooding at Long Wharf in Boston.

With climate change, coastal inundation is becoming a serious concern for coastal communities across the world. The Gulf of Maine King Tides project works to capture imagery of unusually high tides to help planners visualize how higher sea levels might affect existing infrastructure. If you live near a coastal community, you are invited to share your observations to help build this database of how climate change is affecting our world.

Satellite Streak Watcher

A constellation of StarLink satellites passing over the Czech Republic.
A constellation of STARLINK satellites pass over the Czech Republic.

NASA’s Satellite Streak Watcher project engages members of the public in collecting imagery of satellites passing overhead. As the number of satellites increases, they pose an increasing difficulty for astronomers. Anyone with a smartphone can capture imagery of these and upload it to the Satellite Streak Watcher project.

Silent Earth

The Silent Earth project at NASA engages members of the public in measuring sound levels across the globe. The Silent Earth project lead, Dr. Sten Odenwald, just shared graphs showing how COVID-19 shutdowns have led to a significant decrease in ambient sound levels.

You can visit the COVID-19 page on Anecdata.org for more information and ways to stay connected during these unusual times. Citizen scientists are a vital part of collecting data sets that help us understand many aspects of the world around us – find a project that interests you and get involved today! Happy Citizen Science Month!


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