What if Darwin had a Smartphone?
Back in the day, science was often relegated to wealthy, self-funded explorers and “gentlemen scientists” the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, and Isaac Newton. One could argue that they were the original “citizen scientists” but back then you had to have money and time to explore the world and formulate big thoughts. For the average citizen, science was an expensive endeavor accessible to the privileged – and certainly not something in which you were encouraged to participate.
Flash forward 200 years… and imagine that Carlos Darwin, an inquisitive and smart kid from a not-so-wealthy family is able to use a smartphone to document the finches on each of the Galapagos Islands where he lives? And his cousin Josefina Darwin, is able to send him pictures of finches she is seeing in her backyard in New Jersey? And they are able to share their photos and contribute their observations of the natural world with people around the globe – including researchers who were looking for changes in species distribution due to climate change. Now we’re talkin’ citizen science!
What if all those budding “Darwins” in OUR classes and communities used their cell phones for more than Facebook and Snapchat? What if they spent time outdoors, exploring their backyards, parks, woodlands, and swamps using their mobile phones to document all the biodiversity they can find? What if there was an app for THAT?
Welcome to the world of Project Noah –Networked Organisms And Habitats.
Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of nature explorers and average citizens around the world to capture information on biodiversity. Now instead of roaming the neighborhood with a butterfly net, collecting jars, and a bulky field guide you can simply take your smart phone and snap pictures using the Project Noah app. With a few key strokes you can add gps coordinates and field notes and send them whizzing through cyberspace to the Project Noah portal where people from around the world can check out what’s going on in your backyard. Unsure of what the organism is? Project Noah “rangers” are on call to help with species identification and natural history notes.
Here at Amazon Rainforest Workshops, we are thrilled to be partnering with Project Noah to create a virtual field guide to our study sites in the Amazon.
For the last twenty years, the educators and students who participated in our Amazon Workshops have snapped amazing photos of rainforest biodiversity. One has to wonder…what could we learn about rainforest biodiversity if we had access to all the photos taken over the last two decades? What if we could take all those photos and sort them by location and date and species? Would we be able to see patterns of distribution? Discern subtle changes in populations? Stumble upon something new and undiscovered?
What if we could share these photos with the world and inspire wonder and curiosity and knowledge in the next generation of explorers who sit in our classrooms?
Last summer, we launched a pilot of Project Noah during our Educator Workshop. The images in this post are from that expedition. Our initial goal was to shine a light on Amazon biodiversity and begin to construct a virtual field guide to the region we visit each summer. We created a “mission” on Project Noah and called it Peruvian Amazon: Species Spotlight.
For 2013, we are incorporating Project Noah more fully into our Educator Academy in the Amazon and are already working with educators across the country to connect our Amazon images to their classrooms. This year, in addition to simply capturing images of what we see, we will also use our Project Noah spottings to explore the themes of plant and animal adaptations, biomimicry, and climate change in the Amazon.
Project Noah’s co-founder, Yasser Ansari, believes that “not only is there an educational need and an environmental need but a deep, deep human need for all of us to reconnect with our planet.” His goal is to “to bring back that wonderment… to reignite that curiosity for the natural world that we had when we were younger.”
Don’t you think Charles Darwin would agree?
Christa Dillabaugh is our Education and the Rainforest Editor. A former middle school and high school science educator, she coordinates experiential field programs for educators and students in the rainforests of Central and South America. She currently serves as education director for Amazon Rainforest Workshops and loves traipsing through rainforest mud in search of teachable moments! You can read her Amazon field notes at http://amazonworkshops.wordpress.com/