Saturday, July 20, 2013

Citizen Science on Vacation

I've just returned from a relaxing two-week vacation. It was just what the doctor ordered....time at the beach doing almost nothing.   It helped me get away from the stresses of everyday life and catch up on all my sleep.  But where does that leave my work citizen science work?

Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you can't still participate in meaningful scientific research.  It just means doing things differently and learning new areas of research you have not dealt with before.  But isn't that a good thing?

Here are some ideas to test out on your next trip:

Photo Courtesy: Derek Keats
Dive for Science
My wife and I love scuba diving.  Spending time underwater watching fish swim by and counting the local species is a thrilling pastime.  One that's made even better when using that information to track the environment and save threatened species.  Many local areas have programs dedicated to counting and protecting local sea life that you can get involved in.  There are also larger programs (such as CoralWatch) dedicated to tracking also helping save it.

Photo Courtesy: Christine
Discover Local Plants and Animals
Whether you are spending lavishly to stay at a beautiful resort, or saving money with trips to a local park, you can always learn more about the wildlife around you.  Contact a local ranger station or inquire at the hotel desk about any nature programs available for visitors.  Many places are always looking to educate visitors and this is a prime opportunity to learn about the new varieties of life in your brand new surroundings.

Photo Courtesy: ScienceinDC
Tour Local Museums
City-based travelers are in luck too...every major city and most smaller ones all have museums of some sort related to science.  Some are science and technology centers.  Others may be zoos or local parks with ecological value.  And others may be monuments or birthplaces of famous scientists from history.  Take advantage of all the materials and programs available at these sites.  Many are free, but even those that aren't just cost a few dollars that goes back into the research anyway.  There's no excuse not to take advantage.

Photo Courtesy:
Grand Canyon NPS
Travel as part of a Scientific Research Mission
Don't just add science to the vacation...make it the GOAL of your vacation.  Groups such as the Earthwatch Institute, the Archaeological Institute of America, and others can connect you to world-class researchers who need volunteer assistants to help with their studies.  This could be helping dig up million year old fossils, counting insects in the rainforest, or finding new species on remote islands.   These scientists can't do it by themselves and funding for paid assistants is not always available.  While they need our help for their studies, we citizen scientists get the excitement of joining cutting-edge research.  Sounds like a win-win situation to me!


Photo Courtesy: PenguinMan13
Study the Night Sky
As someone who lives in suburban Washington, DC, star-gazing is not usually an option for me.  There is too much light and my work schedule prohibits late night viewing.  But that's not a problem on vacation.  My time is my own and staying up late for a meteor shower isn't a problem at all.  And some of the world's most beautiful vacation spots are in isolated or rural areas (such as tropical islands, hunting cabins, and national parks).  So you'll get a night sky not possible anywhere else.

Have you tried any of these on your vacations?  Any other ideas you wish to share with us?  Let me know in the comments below!


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