People-Powered Ocean Science
Ocean monitoring that keeps pace with business, society, and ocean change
Guest post by Dr. Christine A. Ward-Paige
What is eOceans?
As a marine scientist, I always meet locals who are adamant that I’m studying the wrong thing, looking in the wrong place, or that decisions are misinformed because they are missing the local perspective. I created eOceans as a platform for marine scientists, ocean explorers, communities, governments, and other organizations to track the ocean together in real-time.
The problem we solve
Everything we know about the world’s ocean and its influence on society depends on the important discoveries made by marine scientists. The problem is that science can be a slow process, with people working on different projects in different places all over the world. We are still making one observation at a time, writing it all down, and analyzing for one question at a time. As a result, our findings lag years to decades behind business, society, and ocean change. People who explore the ocean see change happening all the time. eOceans is fixing this by reinventing the way marine science is done, making it accessible to everyone as it happens.
What drove me to create eOceans?
Ocean assets are valued at $24 trillion, providing essential products and services to billions of people. The ocean is home to millions of species. Climate change, plastic pollution, munitions, overfishing, habitat destruction and many other issues threaten species, ecosystems, and the social, economic, and cultural value the ocean brings to humanity. On the other hand, there is ample opportunity to celebrate. Billions have been spent on conservation, species have come back from the brink of extinction, fisheries have improved, tourism has value, and protected areas have grown.
As mentioned, the speed at which science is done can mean a lag in results behind business, society, and ocean change. How can we make decisions when results are so outdated, particularly since society, local and traditional knowledge holders, fishers, coastal dwellers, tourism operators, etc., have already seen the change first-hand?
Enter Citizen Science
After 10 years doing field research, I spent the next 10 doing “armchair” ecology, where my research involved gathering data from ocean explorers to understand broader trends in shark and ray populations. A term called citizen science.
For example, people love manta rays. Tourists spend more than $140 million per year in just 10 communities to see them. When they started to disappear, I was solicited to help. By gathering observations from expert ocean explorers around the world, we revealed how international trade threats were affecting the sharks and rays. Although only two countries reported catching manta rays, they were being caught and sold in markets around the world, including in areas adjacent to where they are highly valued for tourism.
My shift from “Citizen Science” to “Participatory Science”
In 2011, my perspective on science significantly changed from citizen science to participatory science. Two communities independently reached out to me. The dive communities of Thailand and Fiji both depend on shark diving. They appreciate sharks and their livelihoods depend on reliably selling ‘shark dives’. But, as sharks decline, the ability of these communities to reliably sell shark dives diminishes. So we came up with the idea to set up online and community logbooks to document shark observations, including zeros, rays, seahorses, turtles, and other species so everyone could see what was going on.
This was not as easy as it may sound. I won’t go into the boring details, but I spent eights years of weekends, evenings, and vacations working with data, monitoring data quality, and finally, doing analysis. Then, we co-interpreted results, interpretation, and published our findings. My participatory science had awakened!
Need for speed and scale.
I couldn’t keep up with demand. From every part of the world, the ocean is changing – for good and bad – and many researchers, communities, and organizations were reaching out to ask for help with studying something in their area. But I could only oversee one or two projects at a time as they were very time-consuming, so only a few could afford to get these projects off the ground.
In 2018, I pivoted everything I was doing to design, fund, and build eOceans into a platform-as-a-service that has my expertise integrated throughout. We now have a tiny team of expert developers and marine scientists, who are working hard to make data collection, processing, standardization, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination work.
It is our intention that with collaborative and real-time ocean science that scientists will engage in more Participatory Science, and communities will have the data, results, and insights they need to understand what decisions and actions are needed to protect the ocean and their livelihoods and well-being. For the ocean. For us.
Join the movement!
- Download the app to track your activities and log observations, and JOIN different Teams to contribute your relevant observations to science. If you’re landlocked, you can still FOLLOW teams that interest you to see what’s happening. https://www.eoceans.co/data-collection-mobile-app
- Start a Team. Teams work in any part of the world’s ocean, for any species, activity, or issue you wish to study, for a team of any size. Teams can be Public or Private and you can choose the analytics that meet your needs: custom, do-it-yourself, and
- Standards are available for Marine Protected Areas, rare or endangered species, invasive species, threats.
Let’s participate together in ocean science!