It’s happening now at http://exploretheseafloor.net.au, and involves you sifting through photos of the sea floor, taken by underwater robotic vehicles. One project is about spotting sea urchins in Tasmanian waters, particularly the invasive Centrostephanus rodgersii, which is moving southwards and creating bare sea beds or “urchin barrens” in areas that once had thriving kelp forests. The other involves identifying kelp (Ecklonia radiata) so its distribution around Australia can be mapped. [Update: ABC Science has a full article about the sea urchin invaders here.]
The website explains:
Explore the Seafloor is an online citizen science project undertaken by ABC Science in conjunction with the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) as part of National Science Week 2013.
Throughout the month of August we’ll be asking for help with identifying kelp and sea urchins in images of the seafloor. This job is normally done by research assistants and is time-consuming and laborious. In Explore the Seafloor we’ll be taking a crowd-sourcing approach to reduce this workload and ask regular folk to get involved and help the scientists with their research work.
This crowd-sourcing approach is called citizen science – it’s about using the power of the people to increase the breadth of science by gathering or processing information important to a scientific project.
A simple tutorial runs you through what you need to do, and they’ve made it simple – you don’t need to be a scientist, and school groups are encouraged to get involved. At present over 6,200 people have registered.
This is the sort of thing I’ve been waiting years for – contributing to science while sitting at my computer! As an ex- and still-wanna-be marine biologist, it helps me feel I’m still contributing.
[Update: For the east coast US, there’s a citizen science marine ID project at Seafloor Explorer. It’s part of the Zooniverse citizen science series, with projects you can get involved in the categories of space, climate, nature and biology. Even more options are at Tasmania’s WhySci.]