Abstract

Social studies in citizen science typically focus on existing project participants. We present results from an online survey of 1145 marine users to identify broader public interest in marine citizen science. Although we found considerable community interest, the most enthusiastic tended to have a higher education in science, were under 45 years old, primarily enjoyed SCUBA diving, and had contributed to scientific research in the past. The type of research organization involved in a project played a role in people's willingness to share information. The discourse of public participation in scientific research encourages public involvement in all aspects of the scientific process; however, we found that the respondents were primarily interested in data-collection opportunities. Feedback and past experiences in research were important considerations for gaining and retaining the volunteers. Our results indicate considerable potential for growth in volunteer recruitment, which can contribute constructively to scientific and public knowledge of the marine environment.

Members of the public contribute to scientific research in many fields across the globe. This undertaking of “science by the people” (Silvertown 2009) is often referred to as citizen science, and as a practice, it has seen remarkable growth in the last decade (Kullenberg and Kasperowski 2016). The number of publications incorporating data from citizen science has risen steeply as a result of increasing numbers of citizen-science projects and greater acceptance of public contributions by the scientific community (Cohn 2008, Silvertown 2009, Riesch and Potter 2014). This follows a period in which the public was seen to be disconnected from science because of the institutionalization and professionalization of the field (Irwin 1995, Gregory and Miller 1998). The benefits of these reconnections between science and society include education of the public (Trumbull et al. 2000, Kountoupes and Oberhauser 2008, Bonney et al. 2015), social learning (Fernandez-Gimenez et al. 2008), data gathering for scientific and management outcomes (Dickinson et al. 2012, Azzurro et al. 2013, Robinson et al. 2015), the ability of society to address environmental threats (Irwin 1995), and greater facility of broadening the temporal and spatial scales of research (Kolok et al. 2011, Tulloch et al. 2013, Branchini et al. 2015). This increased capacity for the generation of knowledge is both timely and necessary given the great challenges we face now and into the future.

Citizen-science projects are typically (but not always) conceptualized, planned, and designed by scientists first (to answer a specific scientific question), and volunteers are recruited after the project has been developed (Bonney et al. 2009, Roy et al. 2012). Because there is no citizen science without the public, it is a significant oversight that there has been very little—if any—research on the public opinion of citizen science. We suggest that more attention to audience research in the “deliberate design” (Shirk et al. 2012) of citizen-science projects is needed. Such a focus is required to more effectively engage the public and maximize the expenditure of time and resources on projects. At this point, there is a dearth of information on the potential for the uptake of citizen science in the broader community. We don't know how the public might want to engage in citizen science or what types of projects may be of interest to them. We cannot say how much or with whom they are willing to volunteer.

The growth of citizen science in Australia is mirrored in other parts of the globe, and the formation of the Australian Citizen Science Association in 2014 cemented the uptake of the practice for years to come. One scientific field attracting much interest from the citizen-science community is marine science. Many marine citizen-science projects operate at local, regional, and national levels around the country (Sbrocchi 2014), and the number is growing at a fast pace (Pecl et al. 2015). Marine citizen science may also play an important role in fulfilling the aspirations of the national science engagement strategy, Inspiring Australia (DIISR 2010), to increase public engagement through marine science. This strategy appreciates the strong connection Australians have with the marine environment and the opportunities this presents for improving the relationship between science and society. For these reasons, we have chosen marine citizen science as the focus for our study.

Research on volunteer perspectives of citizen science tends to focus on those already participating in projects. This informative work helps to explain the motivations and outcomes for citizen scientists (Nov et al. 2011, Rotman et al. 2012, Raddick et al. 2013); however, few (if any) have studied the wider target audience to determine the potential for increasing engagement in projects.

The aims of the study

Our study aimed to understand public perceptions and interest in marine citizen science in a broad sense to determine whether there is potential to increase the number of volunteers in marine citizen science. To gather data at a national level, we used an online survey to question marine users across Australia about assisting with marine research. The results provide a description of the type of people most likely to volunteer for marine citizen-science projects. This fundamental research is necessary for the design and promotion of marine citizen-science projects but is noticeably missing in the literature. By understanding the types of people willing to volunteer, project managers can create engagement programs that better fit the interests and skills of volunteers. It also informs more effective communication campaigns designed to attract volunteers. In the bigger picture, this study provides valuable data for an evidence-based approach to strategic science engagement of the public through marine citizen science.

Methods

This research forms part of a larger project that is investigating public participation in marine science in Australia. An online survey was developed (the method for which is explained below) from our previous work in which 110 formative interviews were conducted with marine users in four regions of Australia (Martin et al. 2016). The interviews were conducted face to face with members of the public who were observed engaging in marine activities (e.g., fishing, boating, kayaking, and swimming) or through the “snowball” technique (Bryman 2012) to identify marine users who were difficult to access (such as SCUBA divers). The objectives of the interviews were to elicit public beliefs about participation in marine research and to test questions for the national survey. The national survey aimed to (a) examine public interest in volunteering for marine research (reported here), (b) identify significant drivers and barriers to public participation, and (c) understand the potential for marine citizen science to increase Australians’ engagement in science (the latter two aims will be reported elsewhere).

Survey questions

The development and wording of survey questions relevant to this article and the corresponding data set can be found in the supplemental material. The survey items were constructed to answer the following four questions: (1) What are the background characteristics of people willing to volunteer and those who are not? (2) How much interest is there to participate in marine research? (3) What type of assistance is the public willing to give? (4) Are volunteers more willing to provide data for certain organizations more than for others?

The survey ran for a total of 8 weeks from February to April 2015. It took approximately 30 minutes for people to complete and attracted 1375 people to commence the questions. The completion rate was 83.3%, resulting in a total of 1145 surveys for the analysis. For details on how the survey was promoted, please see the supplemental material.

Statistical analysis

Our investigation required descriptive analysis, tests for differences in key groups, and relationships between variables. Following data screening and cleaning, any negatively worded variables were recoded (Field 2013). For comparative purposes, the respondents were categorized into their most preferred activities, which resulted in three key groups: SCUBA diving, fishing, and “other” (to represent all other activities). This allowed for the testing of differences between key user-group types, as well as correlations between user types and other factors for the majority of the research questions. All the scale items were found to be nonnormal using both the Shapiro-Wilk and Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests for normality. For this reason, nonparametric tests were employed as per Pallant (2013). SPSS 22 and Microsoft Excel were used to undertake the analyses.

Results

The online survey attracted respondents from all over the country and from a wide range of interests in different marine activities. Responses came from every state and mainland territory of Australia (figure 1). Respondent demographics and a comparison of the respondents with the general population are supplied in the supplemental material. Overall, the group of respondents was almost evenly split between males and females and had a wide spread in age groups (from 15 years to 84 years). The respondents had a wide variety of interests in marine activities, and their education level was higher than average for the Australian population. Education in science was also higher than the Australian average (50.1% of the respondents had tertiary-, or higher-, level science education), but only 27.6% of the respondents said they were currently working in the science industry. The three key groups for comparison comprised 318 divers; 271 fishers (primarily recreational); and 556 “others,” who selected all other categories of activities.

Figure 1.

The locations of the survey responses.

Figure 1.

The locations of the survey responses.

The importance of marine environment to the respondents

The marine environment was very important in the lives of our respondents. When asked whether “the marine environment contributes to my ‘quality of life’ and well-being,” the fishers (M = 6.77, SD = .67), divers (M = 6.88, SD = .36), and others (M = 6.71, SD = .63) all responded highly on the 7-point scale (1, strongly disagree; 7, strongly agree). Likewise, when asked whether they “would be personally affected if the health of the marine environment declined,” the mean scores were also high: fishers (M = 6.65, SD = .83), divers (M = 6.84, SD = .48), and others (M = 6.68, SD = .72). Although a Kruskal-Wallis test revealed a statistically ­significant difference between the group means, the very high scores mean these differences are not particularly instructive.

Interest in assisting marine research

We asked the respondents to indicate how interested they were in assisting marine research. This was presented as a 7-point scale (–3, not at all interested; +3, very interested). Although most responses were in the positive, divers were the keenest, as was shown by 64.2% selecting +3, very interested (figure 2). Very few negative responses were recorded (5.1% of fishers, 2.5% of divers, and 6.2% of “others”). A Kruskal-Wallis test revealed a statistically significant difference in the interest levels between activity groups (fishers M = 5.66, divers M = 6.42, “others” M = 5.80), χ2 (2, N = 1145) = 78.46, p < .001). A Tukey HSD post hoc analysis was conducted to test for all possible pairwise contrasts. Divers were found to be significantly different (p < 0.05) from both fishers and “others.” There was no statistically significant difference between fishers and “others.” This indicates that divers are more interested in assisting marine research than any other types of marine users.

Figure 2.

Interest in assisting marine research by activity group.

Figure 2.

Interest in assisting marine research by activity group.

The high level of interest among the divers was also reflected in the considerable number of hours they were willing to volunteer per annum (see the supplemental material for the results). Although the number of volunteer hours across all groups represented a potentially significant contribution to research (over half of the respondents indicated at least 7 days a year), the divers were prepared to offer the largest number of hours per annum (over half of the divers said they would volunteer at least once a month).

We also explored the relationship between interest in participating in marine research and tertiary (higher) education, science education, and age using a Spearman rank order correlation coefficient. There was a small positive correlation between interest level and tertiary education (rho = .096, N = 1053, p = .002). The correlation between interest and education in science was stronger but still in the low range (rho = .25, N = 1125, p < .001).

Using the age-group categories defined by the 2011 Australian census (see the supplemental material for response rates), we tested for differences in interest levels between age groups. A negative correlation was obtained between interest and age group (rho = –.19, N = 1126, p < .001), with higher interest being associated with younger age groups. A one-way analysis of variance was conducted to explore the impact of age group on interest, indicating a difference in the interest scores for the age-group categories (F(7, 1118) = 6.8, p < .001). However, the actual difference between group mean scores was quite small (effect size calculated using eta squared was = .04).

Post hoc comparisons using a Tukey HSD test indicated three of the younger age groups all differed significantly from two of the older age groups. The mean interest scores for the three younger age groups were the following: (1) 19 to 24 years (M = 6.33, SD = 1.12), (2) 25 to 34 years (M = 6.19, SD = 1.15), and (3) 35 to 44 years (M = 6.03, SD = 1.15). The two older age groups that differed significantly from the three younger groups were (1) 55 to 64 years (M = 5.56, SD = 1.31) and (2) 65 to 74 years (M = 5.40, SD = 1.60), (p < .05). Interest scores from the youngest age group (15 to 19 years, M = 5.95, SD = 1.19), the middle group (45 to 54 years, M = 5.88, SD = 1.35), and the oldest group (75 to 84 years, M = 6.00, SD = 1.41) did not differ significantly from any of the other groups.

The relationship between interest and gender was tested using Pearson product–moment correlation coefficient and indicated no significant correlation between these two variables.

Preferred type of involvement in research

The respondents were interested in participating in many different aspects of the scientific process. Across all groups, the marine users were interested in being involved in data collection more than any other role (table 1). After this, the groups’ interests diverged. The fishers were more likely to be interested in the early stage of the research process (helping decide what topics marine research should focus on in the future), whereas the divers and “others” were interested in roles nearer the end of the process (helping to analyze the findings and helping to communicate the findings, respectively). Getting involved in public debates about marine science was the least favored activity for fishers and others and the second least favored for divers. Divers said they were least likely to get involved in helping to decide where funding and other resources should be spent.

Table 1.

Interest in participation in different aspects of the (marine) scientific process and correlation with education and past experience.

              Past contribution to any scientific research Past contribution of photos to marine science 
 Fisher Diver Other Correlation with level of tertiary education** Correlation with level of science education** Yes (n = 829) No (n = 316)    Yes (n = 236) No (n = 909)    
 Mean* SD Rank Mean* SD Rank Mean* SD Rank rho value P rho value p Mean* SD Mean* SD t df p Mean* SD Mean* SD t df p 
Public debates about marine science 4.06 1.82 4.65 1.71 4.10 1.87 .108 .000 .198 .000 4.49 1.774 3.60 1.826 7.428 555.355 .000 4.97 1.649 4.06 1.831 7.405 398.943 .000 
Helping to process information (data) 4.51 1.64 5.22 1.50 4.72 1.67 .005 .877 .181 .000 5.01 1.555 4.27 1.726 6.648 521.135 .000 5.33 1.418 4.67 1.663 6.182 418.947 .000 
Helping to communicate the findings 4.83 1.66 5.35 1.50 4.96 1.71 .079 .010 .183 .000 5.28 1.556 4.38 1.719 8.130 523.077 .000 5.68 1.389 4.87 1.673 7.686 429.809 .000 
Helping plan individual marine research projects 4.53 1.68 5.24 1.65 4.59 1.79 .066 .033 .201 .000 4.98 1.701 4.15 1.743 7.351 1143 .000 5.50 1.463 4.56 1.770 8.345 431.495 .000 
Helping to decide where funding and other resources should be spent 4.62 1.77 4.61 1.78 4.23 1.79 .037 .234 .138 .000 4.61 1.750 3.95 1.825 5.625 1143 .000 5.14 1.621 4.24 1.792 7.377 397.439 .000 
Collecting information (data) for marine scientists 5.70 1.23 6.31 .98 5.64 1.37 -.008 .795 .154 .000 5.97 1.246 5.51 1.284 5.373 554.815 .000 6.34 0.911 5.71 1.320 8.525 521.325 .000 
Helping to analyze the findings 4.76 1.56 5.46 1.42 4.87 1.74 .042 .172 .240 .000 5.21 1.570 4.48 1.693 6.569 533.564 .000 5.52 1.385 4.87 1.671 6.080 430.140 .000 
Helping to decide what topics marine research should focus on in the future 5.03 1.48 5.16 1.55 4.75 1.68 -.010 .737 .178 .000 5.09 1.562 4.53 1.661 5.186 539.980 .000 5.63 1.358 4.75 1.620 8.477 425.894 .000 
Acting as a representative to explain the concerns that society has about marine research 4.44 1.75 5.02 1.69 4.38 1.89 .078 .012 .168 .000 4.79 1.790 4.01 1.794 6.545 1143 .000 5.37 1.578 4.37 1.826 8.440 413.937 .000 
              Past contribution to any scientific research Past contribution of photos to marine science 
 Fisher Diver Other Correlation with level of tertiary education** Correlation with level of science education** Yes (n = 829) No (n = 316)    Yes (n = 236) No (n = 909)    
 Mean* SD Rank Mean* SD Rank Mean* SD Rank rho value P rho value p Mean* SD Mean* SD t df p Mean* SD Mean* SD t df p 
Public debates about marine science 4.06 1.82 4.65 1.71 4.10 1.87 .108 .000 .198 .000 4.49 1.774 3.60 1.826 7.428 555.355 .000 4.97 1.649 4.06 1.831 7.405 398.943 .000 
Helping to process information (data) 4.51 1.64 5.22 1.50 4.72 1.67 .005 .877 .181 .000 5.01 1.555 4.27 1.726 6.648 521.135 .000 5.33 1.418 4.67 1.663 6.182 418.947 .000 
Helping to communicate the findings 4.83 1.66 5.35 1.50 4.96 1.71 .079 .010 .183 .000 5.28 1.556 4.38 1.719 8.130 523.077 .000 5.68 1.389 4.87 1.673 7.686 429.809 .000 
Helping plan individual marine research projects 4.53 1.68 5.24 1.65 4.59 1.79 .066 .033 .201 .000 4.98 1.701 4.15 1.743 7.351 1143 .000 5.50 1.463 4.56 1.770 8.345 431.495 .000 
Helping to decide where funding and other resources should be spent 4.62 1.77 4.61 1.78 4.23 1.79 .037 .234 .138 .000 4.61 1.750 3.95 1.825 5.625 1143 .000 5.14 1.621 4.24 1.792 7.377 397.439 .000 
Collecting information (data) for marine scientists 5.70 1.23 6.31 .98 5.64 1.37 -.008 .795 .154 .000 5.97 1.246 5.51 1.284 5.373 554.815 .000 6.34 0.911 5.71 1.320 8.525 521.325 .000 
Helping to analyze the findings 4.76 1.56 5.46 1.42 4.87 1.74 .042 .172 .240 .000 5.21 1.570 4.48 1.693 6.569 533.564 .000 5.52 1.385 4.87 1.671 6.080 430.140 .000 
Helping to decide what topics marine research should focus on in the future 5.03 1.48 5.16 1.55 4.75 1.68 -.010 .737 .178 .000 5.09 1.562 4.53 1.661 5.186 539.980 .000 5.63 1.358 4.75 1.620 8.477 425.894 .000 
Acting as a representative to explain the concerns that society has about marine research 4.44 1.75 5.02 1.69 4.38 1.89 .078 .012 .168 .000 4.79 1.790 4.01 1.794 6.545 1143 .000 5.37 1.578 4.37 1.826 8.440 413.937 .000 
*

Based on a 7-point scale (1, very unlikely; 7, very likely). *Spearman's rho for nonparametric data.

The various roles in science presented to the respondents were tested for correlations between level of interest in each role and level of tertiary education and level of science education. Tertiary education was correlated at a low level with some of the items (public debates, communicating findings, planning projects, and acting as a representative) in this question, whereas science education was more strongly correlated with all items (table 1).

The importance of feedback

All groups placed a high importance on feedback from scientists if they were to participate in any marine research project. The group means were all above 6 on a 7-point scale (1, not at all important; 7, very important). The group mean scores were fishers (M = 6.16, SD = 1.13), divers (M = 6.37, SD = .94), and others (M = 6.22, SD = 1.09).

Past experience in research

The number of respondents who had previously contributed to any scientific research (i.e., volunteering for medical, environmental, or other research in some way, not necessarily marine science) was high (N = 829, or 72.4%), although the fishers had relatively fewer “past contributors” (61.6%) than the divers (78.9%) and “others” (73.9%). In contrast, the number of people who had assisted marine science in the past through the submission of photographs of marine species was considerably lower (total N = 236; fishers = 19.2%, divers = 34.0%, and “others” = 13.7%). Past marine science contributors represented one-fifth (20.6%) of the total population in the survey.

Independent samples t-tests revealed that both measures of past contributions to science resulted in statistically significant differences in all mean scores for the questions regarding people's interest in the various roles within the scientific process (table 1). Those with past experience in contributing to science indicated they were more likely to get involved in all aspects of “doing” science than those who had never previously assisted research. Interestingly, for all the roles listed in this particular question, those who had never contributed to science scored only one role well above the others. This was data collection, which was the only role to receive a mean score above 5 for those who had never contributed to any scientific or marine research in the past.

In addition, previous experience in contributing to ­science (either any scientific research or marine science) also had a positive influence on people's overall interest in assisting marine science in the future. Past contributors to any scientific research had a higher level of interest (M = 6.15, SD = 1.14) than those who had not contributed (M = 5.39, SD = 1.43; t (474.28) = 8.49, p < .001, two-tailed). Past contributors of photos to marine science also had a higher level of interest (M = 6.36, SD = 0.93) than those who had not contributed (M = 5.83, SD = 1.33; t (512.36) = 7.19, p < .001, two-tailed).

Organizations that respondents will share data with

In a separate section of the survey, the respondents were asked about their willingness to participate in a hypothetical marine citizen-science project that was modeled on the nationwide Redmap project (www.redmap.org.au). Redmap is concerned with identifying potential range extensions of marine species and asks members of the public to report sightings of uncommon marine species (i.e., species that people do not normally see in a particular area). These reports are submitted with photos of the species for verification by experts. One of the survey questions asked which organizations people were happy to share photos of uncommon species with (implying a level of trust in the organization). University-based researchers were the most frequently mentioned organization for all groups, with 80%–93% of the respondents (depending on the group) selecting these researchers (table 2). After that, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) rated as the next most frequently cited organization for 77.5% of the fishers and 84.9% of the “others,” whereas the second most popular category for the divers was the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), at 86.2%. Private research companies or consultants were the least mentioned by the respondents to this question.

Table 2.

The organizations with which respondents would share photographs of uncommon marine species.

 Activity Group 
 Fisher Diver Other 
 Count Column Total N % Count Column Total N % Count Column Total N % 
My state government's Department of Fisheries (or equivalent) 193 71.2% 199 62.6% 364 65.5% 
University-based marine scientists 221 81.5% 295 92.8% 499 89.7% 
CSIRO marine scientists 210 77.5% 272 85.5% 472 84.9% 
Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) 194 71.6% 274 86.2% 455 81.8% 
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Queensland 129 47.6% 231 72.6% 373 67.1% 
Private research companies / consultants 58 21.4% 83 26.1% 125 22.5% 
National or state bodies / groups representing your interests (e.g., Recfish Australia, dive groups, boating groups). 178 65.7% 206 64.8% 251 45.1% 
Australian (Federal) Government Department of Agriculture (encompassing Fisheries) 145 53.5% 164 51.6% 280 50.4% 
National Parks / Marine Parks/ government environment department researchers 154 56.8% 273 85.8% 465 83.6% 
NGOs* 0.7% 2.5% 20 3.6% 
Museums* 0.4% 1.3% 0.5% 
Other 1.5% 10 3.1% 12 2.2% 
None of the above 1.1% 0.3% 0.9% 
 Activity Group 
 Fisher Diver Other 
 Count Column Total N % Count Column Total N % Count Column Total N % 
My state government's Department of Fisheries (or equivalent) 193 71.2% 199 62.6% 364 65.5% 
University-based marine scientists 221 81.5% 295 92.8% 499 89.7% 
CSIRO marine scientists 210 77.5% 272 85.5% 472 84.9% 
Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) 194 71.6% 274 86.2% 455 81.8% 
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Queensland 129 47.6% 231 72.6% 373 67.1% 
Private research companies / consultants 58 21.4% 83 26.1% 125 22.5% 
National or state bodies / groups representing your interests (e.g., Recfish Australia, dive groups, boating groups). 178 65.7% 206 64.8% 251 45.1% 
Australian (Federal) Government Department of Agriculture (encompassing Fisheries) 145 53.5% 164 51.6% 280 50.4% 
National Parks / Marine Parks/ government environment department researchers 154 56.8% 273 85.8% 465 83.6% 
NGOs* 0.7% 2.5% 20 3.6% 
Museums* 0.4% 1.3% 0.5% 
Other 1.5% 10 3.1% 12 2.2% 
None of the above 1.1% 0.3% 0.9% 
*

These were not on original list. These have been extracted from the mentions under “Other.”

Discussion

This study has provided insights into several important characteristics of marine users interested in marine citizen science. First, potential volunteers are passionate about the marine environment, which holds special meaning and importance in their lives. These results are similar to regional findings from research on the Great Barrier Reef (Tobin et al. 2014) using similarly worded questions; however, the mean scores for the respondents in our study were even higher (relative to the scale used). This may be a result of the respondents having (perceived) worldviews similar to those of the research team, meaning that people who are passionate about the marine environment and willing to assist research were more likely to answer the questions in the first place (Wynveen et al. 2014). However, other studies have also shown the marine environment to be a valuable and important place for the majority of Australians in other parts of the country (Ipsos–Eureka 2012, Voyer et al. 2015). Although it was not intended to be representative of the general population, our study is the first attempt to ask about the importance of the marine environment at a national level. Citizen-science projects could (and do) gain leverage from this passion to increase public engagement.

Second, the volunteers were willing to contribute generous amounts of time for marine research. This represents a considerable amount of human effort for research and demonstrates there is still a largely untapped resource of interested and enthusiastic volunteers to contribute to marine science.

Third, the divers stood out as the most enthusiastic group to assist marine research. This is not surprising, considering that others such as Hammerton and colleagues (2012) have reported similar interest levels for this group of marine users. Our results show that many fishers and “others” are also keen to become involved in marine research. This is good news for the growth of marine citizen science and for Australia's national science-engagement strategy, Inspiring Australia (DIISR 2010), which suggests that marine science may provide opportunities to engage more people in science. However, our findings indicate that some interests and preferences vary between these groups, which means they want to engage in different ways.

Fourth, potential volunteers were likely to be highly educated, especially in science. We acknowledge that using our university convenience sample will have increased the proportion of highly educated respondents. However, this result was not entirely unexpected. The tertiary education results are in line with the profiles of volunteers in some current citizen-science projects, such as Galaxy Zoo (Raddick et al. 2013) and stewardship in local parks (Dresner et al. 2015). Unfortunately, many marine-based citizen-science projects have not reported the education background (let alone the science education) of their participants (Thiel et al. 2014). This is something we encourage other studies to do in order to both better describe the types of people drawn to citizen science and to understand the impact citizen science may have on public science engagement.

Fifth, younger people were more likely to volunteer for marine citizen science, although the difference between the younger respondents and those over 45 years was relatively small. This finding is in contrast to Dresner and colleagues (2015), who found that the volunteers who contributed the most frequently were more likely to be older. The type of environment may play a role in determining interest by age. Dresner and colleagues’ (2015) study was conducted in terrestrial parks which, compared with the marine environment, are relatively accessible to most people. Although beaches can be visited by many, access to the ocean and some coastal areas is often constrained by transport, equipment, and/or physical capability. These factors may be enough to restrict marine visitation to those who can afford or gain access to boats, SCUBA gear, etc. and are able to cope with the physical demands of their activities. However, given that the differences between younger and older people were small, this is not likely to be a significant issue for marine citizen-science projects. It simply emphasizes the need for context-specific audience research in the development of citizen-science projects.

Sixth, contributions to scientific research in the past increased the likelihood people will participate again in the future. Our question about past experience in any research showed remarkably high participation (almost three-quarters of the respondents). We recognize that it is unclear exactly how the respondents interpreted this question, and their answers may reflect participation in myriad ways, not all of which may be strictly “scientific.” For example, the respondents may have answered yes if they had filled in a survey (such as our own) or engaged with marketing research. We recommend rewording this question—or including additional questions—for researchers exploring this connection in further research. However, our additional question about previous experience in a particular type of marine citizen-science project (which around one-fifth of the respondents had performed) provided a clearer result in the correlation between past experience and interest in future participation.

This means that it is important for citizen-science projects to ensure that the barriers to first-time participants are minimized and designed to meet the needs and interests of the audience. Our results suggest that data-collection opportunities may be a great way to bring newcomers to citizen science, because this is where the greatest interest lies. Given that half of the respondents had studied science at a tertiary level but only a quarter of the respondents were currently working in the science industry, citizen science might also be seen by those not currently using their science degrees as a way of continuing their interests in scientific research. Other roles may develop within the project that use these valuable volunteer skills and experience in keeping with their interests.

These findings raise the question of volunteer motivations, which other researchers have begun to unravel (Nov et al. 2011, Iacovides et al. 2013, Raddick et al. 2013, Rotman et al. 2014, Thiel et al. 2014, Land-Zandstra et al. 2015). Although there are some patterns in the findings from this body of work, such as volunteers having both intrinsic (e.g., to learn more) and extrinsic motivations (e.g., to contribute to scientific knowledge), it highlights the importance of considering volunteer motivations and interests within project processes in order to recruit and retain citizen scientists.

Although our results are encouraging for the growth of citizen science, we acknowledge that an expression of interest does not always translate to action. This “intention–behavior” gap is a much-maligned problem in human behavioral research (Fishbein and Ajzen 2010), and we invoke research attention to this issue in a citizen-science context.

Interest in different aspects of research

The respondents from all groups said they were most likely to assist in data collection more than any other aspect of the scientific process. Next, interest in communicating findings was quite high (this was the second preference for the “others” group and the third for the fishers and divers). This is interesting to note given some of the challenges community groups found in communicating results of forestry-monitoring projects in the United States (Fernandez-Gimenez et al. 2008). The US example illustrates that volunteers sometimes have difficulty disseminating project information to their broader communities. For participants in this role, communication support may need to be provided to the volunteers. Effort in this area may embrace another important aspect of effective citizen-science engagement: that of feedback from scientists (Eastman et al. 2014). Timely and clear communication of progress and results may help to address the problem of retaining volunteers (Rotman et al. 2014). This is important because volunteer retention is essential to the long-term success of citizen-science projects (Thiel et al. 2014).

The fishers were also interested in having a say in what type of research was conducted, whereas the divers were more interested in analyzing the results of research. This difference may be understood when we consider the background interests of each group. The divers in our study also had a higher level of science education than the other groups had. It is likely that they have competent data-analysis skills and, being scientists, may be more interested in looking at and working with the data.

The fishers, however, have a different relationship with marine science and management. Fisheries-management decisions in Australia often involve representatives from fishing groups (both commercial and recreational), but because of differences in values and management goals among stakeholders (Voyer et al. 2015), some fishers have felt a loss of agency over access to fishing sites following consultative processes (Voyer et al. 2013, Gledhill et al. 2014). Citizen science may provide opportunities for fishers and researchers to discuss the issues, thereby increasing understanding of both the scientific and public concerns by all parties (Voyer et al. 2015).

Trust in research organizations

One of the important factors influencing public willingness to share data with researchers is the type of organization the data is being collected by, and this implies there is an element of trust placed by the public in these organizations. Our results clearly show that university-based researchers are the most trusted across all groups in our survey, followed closely by two public marine research institutes (CSIRO and AIMS). This result is not unexpected given that Australians have a high level of trust in information from scientists (Critchley 2008, Searle 2014), as do Americans (Gauchat 2012, Leiserowitz et al. 2013), despite the concerns of public mistrust in science that often play out in the media. Recent research on the issue of public trust in one of Australia's key marine environmental agencies, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), suggests that public trust in the agency is associated with similar perceived values and environmental worldviews, which have important consequences for successful collaboration and the effective communication of marine environmental information (Wynveen and Sutton 2015). This may help to explain why many of our respondents (who are more highly educated, particularly in science, than the Australian population) will work with research organizations that hold similar scientific worldviews.

Our final point in this section addresses the absence of NGOs and museums on our list of organizations in the survey. Although NGOs and museums run many successful citizen-science projects (Koss and Kingsley 2010), very few of the respondents mentioned these organizations specifically in the open-ended “other” category. The result may have been higher had we included these two options in the list; however, our interview results indicate that it may not be much higher. We do not believe this means people are unwilling to share data with NGOs and museums. Rather, we suspect these organizations are currently not in the forefront of people's minds when it comes to questions of marine scientific research. This will no doubt raise questions for NGOs and museums about how they promote their citizen-science activities and whether their volunteers perceive the research from these organizations to be truly “scientific.” Our intention is not to be controversial; rather, we only aim to point out that in the minds of the public, “science” is conducted at universities or in laboratories (Gauchat 2011). For this reason, we believe more effective communication about the scientific outcomes from NGO and museum-based citizen-science projects will not only have a positive impact on participation rates but also break down some of the incorrect assumptions the public have of science in general.

Conclusions

The survey attracted responses from people who had many different interests in the marine environment, and it covered a broad range of activities. The results paint an interesting and informative picture of those who may volunteer for marine citizen science in the future. This is valuable information for managers of new and ongoing citizen-science projects to consider. Understanding the public's needs and interests in citizen science is an essential element of the deliberate design of citizen-science projects (Shirk et al. 2012), but it is an area in project planning that is often underinvestigated. This study looked at public interest in marine citizen science at a national level to try to understand the potential for it to engage wider audiences.

Although it certainly appears that many people will assist marine research (albeit with some caveats) and devote a considerable amount of time to it, it is clear that citizen science is more likely to engage people already interested in science. This has important implications for the strategic use of citizen science to address issues of scientific literacy, knowledge, and appreciation among the public. Citizen science does appear to present an excellent opportunity for individuals to increase their knowledge, skills, and friendships (Pecl et al. 2015), but these people are likely to be starting with a reasonable understanding of scientific processes. The real challenge lies in attracting those distanced from science through lack of interest, trust, or opportunity.

Supplemental Material

The supplemental material is available online at http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1093/biosci/biw070/-/DC1.

The authors would like to thank the countless groups, organizations, businesses, and individuals around Australia who assisted with the recruitment of respondents to the survey in numerous ways. VM was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award. GP was supported by an ARC Future Fellowship. This research was conducted with ethics approval from Southern Cross University (approval no. ECN-14-041).

References cited

Azzurro
E
Broglio
E
Maynou
F
Bariche
M
2013
Citizen science detects the undetected: The case of Abudefduf saxatilis from the Mediterranean Sea
Management of Biological Invasions
 
4
167
170
Bonney
R
Cooper
CB
Dickinson
J
Kelling
S
Phillips
T
Rosenberg
KV
Shirk
J
2009
Citizen science: A developing tool for expanding science knowledge and scientific literacy
BioScience
 
59
977
984
Bonney
R
Phillips
TB
Ballard
HL
Enck
JW
2015
Can citizen science enhance public understanding of science?
Public Understanding of Science
 
25
2
16
Branchini
S
Pensa
F
Neri
P
Tonucci
B
Mattielli
L
Collavo
A
Sillingardi
M
Piccinetti
C
Zaccanti
F
Goffredo
S
2015
Using a citizen science program to monitor coral reef biodiversity through space and time
Biodiversity and Conservation
 
24
319
336
Bryman
A.
2012
Social Research Methods
 
Oxford University Press
Cohn
JP.
2008
Citizen science: Can volunteers do real research?
BioScience
 
58
192
197
Critchley
CR.
2008
Public opinion and trust in scientists: The role of the research context, and the perceived motivation of stem cell researchers
Public Understanding of Science
 
17
309
327
Dickinson
JL
Shirk
J
Bonter
D
Bonney
R
Crain
RL
Martin
J
Phillips
T
Purcell
K
2012
The current state of citizen science as a tool for ecological research and public engagement
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
 
10
291
297
[DIISR] Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, and Research
2010
Inspiring Australia: A National Strategy for Engagement with the Sciences
 
DIISR
Dresner
M
Handelman
C
Braun
S
Rollwagen-Bollens
G
2015
Environmental identity, pro-environmental behaviors, and civic engagement of volunteer stewards in Portland area parks
Environmental Education Research
 
21
991
1010
Eastman
LB
Hidalgo-Ruz
V
Macaya-Caquilpán
V
Paloma
N
Thiel
M
2014
The potential for young citizen scientist projects: A case study of Chilean schoolchildren collecting data on marine litter
Journal of Integrated Coastal Zone Management
 
14
569
579
Fernandez-Gimenez
ME
Ballard
HL
Sturtevant
VE
2008
Adaptive management and social learning in collaborative and community-based monitoring: A study of five community-based forestry organizations in the Western USA
Ecology and Society
 
13
(art. 4)
Field
AP.
2013
Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics: And Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll
 
Sage
Fishbein
M
Ajzen
I
2010
Predicting and Changing Behavior: The Reasoned Action Approach
 
Taylor and Francis
Gauchat
G.
2011
The cultural authority of science: Public trust and acceptance of organized science
Public Understanding of Science
 
20
751
770
Gauchat
G.
2012
Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere
American Sociological Review
 
77
167
187
Gledhill
DC
Hobday
AJ
Welch
DJ
Sutton
SG
Lansdell
MJ
Koopman
M
Jeloudev
A
Smith
A
Last
PR
2014
Collaborative approaches to accessing and utilising historical citizen science data: A case-study with spearfishers from eastern Australia
Marine and Freshwater Research
 
66
195
201
Gregory
J
Miller
S
1998
Science in Public: Communication, Culture, and Credibility
 
Plenum Press
Hammerton
Z
Dimmock
K
Hahn
C
Dalton
SJ
Smith
SDA
2012
Scuba diving and marine conservation: Collaboration at two Australian subtropical destinations
Tourism in Marine Environments
 
8
77
90
Iacovides
I
Jennett
C
Cornish-Trestrail
C
Cox
AL
2013
Do games attract or sustain engagement in citizen science? A study of volunteer motivations
Paper presented at CHI Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems; 27 April–2 May 2013
 
Paris, France
[Ipsos–Eureka] Ipsos–Eureka Social Research Institute
2012
Coastal and Marine Environment Community Attitudes and Behaviour
 
Ipsos–Eureka
Victorian Coastal Council Report no. 4
Irwin
A.
1995
Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise, and Sustainable Development
 
Routledge
Kolok
AS
Schoenfuss
HL
Propper
CR
Vail
TL
2011
Empowering citizen scientists: The strength of many in monitoring biologically active environmental contaminants
BioScience
 
61
626
630
Koss
RS
Kingsley
JY
2010
Volunteer health and emotional wellbeing in marine protected areas
Ocean and Coastal Management
 
53
447
453
Kountoupes
D
Oberhauser
K
2008
Citizen science and youth audiences: Educational outcomes of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project
Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship
 
1
10
20
Kullenberg
C
Kasperowski
D
2016
What is citizen science? A scientometric meta-analysis
PLOS ONE
 
11
(art. e0147152)
Land-Zandstra
AM
Devilee
JLA
Snik
F
Buurmeijer
F
van den Broek
JM
2015
Citizen science on a smartphone: Participants’ motivations and learning
Public Understanding of Science
 
25
45
60
Leiserowitz
A
Maibach
EW
Roser-Renouf
C
Smith
N
Dawson
E
2013
Climategate, Public Opinion, and the Loss of Trust
American Behavioral Scientist
 
57
818
837
Martin
VY
Christidis
L
Lloyd
DJ
Pecl
GT
2016
Understanding drivers, barriers, and information sources for public participation in marine science
Journal of Science Communication 15 (art. A02).
 
Nov
O
Arazy
O
Anderson
D
2011
Technology-mediated citizen science participation: A motivational model
Paper presented at the Fifth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media
 
17–21 July 2011
Barcelona, Spain
Pallant
J.
2013
SPSS Survival Manual: A Step by Step Guide to Data Analysis Using IBM SPSS
 
Allen and Unwin
Pecl
G
Gillies
C
Sbrocchi
CD
Roetman
P
2015
Building Australia through Citizen Science
Australian Government, Office of the Chief Scientist
 
Occasional Paper Series
Raddick
MJ
Bracey
G
Gay
PL
Lintott
CJ
Cardamone
C
Murray
P
Schawinski
K
Szalay
AS
Vandenberg
J
2013
Galaxy Zoo: Motivations of citizen scientists
Astronomy Education Review
 
12
(art. 010106)
Riesch
H
Potter
C
2014
Citizen science as seen by scientists: Methodological, epistemological, and ethical dimensions
Public Understanding of Science
 
23
107
120
Robinson
LM
Gledhill
DC
Moltschaniwskyj
NA
Hobday
AJ
Frusher
S
Barrett
N
Stuart-Smith
J
Pecl
GT
2015
Rapid assessment of an ocean warming hotspot reveals “high” confidence in potential species’ range extensions
Global Environmental Change
 
31
28
37
Rotman
D
Hammock
J
Preece
J
Hansen
D
Boston
C
Bowser
A
He
Y
2014
Motivations affecting initial and long-term participation in citizen science projects in three countries
Paper presented at iConference; 4–7 March 2014
 
Berlin, Germany
Rotman
D
Preece
J
Hammock
J
Procita
K
Hansen
D
Parr
C
Lewis
D
Jacobs
D
2012
Dynamic changes in motivation in collaborative citizen-science projects
Paper presented at ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work; 11–15 February 2012
 
Seattle, Washington
Roy
HE
Pocock
MJO
Preston
CD
Roy
DB
Savage
J
Tweddle
JC
Robinson
LD
2012
Understanding Citizen Science and Environmental Monitoring: Final Report on Behalf of UK Environmental Observation Framework
 
Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Natural History Museum
Sbrocchi
CD.
2014
Evaluating the Usefulness of Citizen Science for Natural Resource Management in Marine Environments
 
Master's thesis
University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Searle
S.
2014
How Do Australians Engage with Science? Preliminary Results from a National Survey
 
Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS). Australian National University
Shirk
JL
et al
2012
Public Participation in Scientific Research: A Framework for Deliberate Design
Ecology and Society
 
17
(art. 29)
Silvertown
J.
2009
A new dawn for citizen science
Trends in Ecology and Evolution
 
24
467
471
Thiel
M
Penna Díaz
M
Luna Jorquera
G
Salas
S
Sellanes
J
Stotz
W
2014
Citizen scientists and marine research: Volunteer participants, their contributions, and projection for the future
Oceanography and Marine Biology
 
52
257
314
Tobin
RC
Bohensky
E
Curnock
M
Goldberg
J
Gooch
M
Marshall
NA
Nicotra
B
Pert
P
Scherl
L
Stone-Jovicich
S
2014
The Social and Economic Long Term Monitoring Program (SELTMP) 2014: Recreation in the Great Barrier Reef
 
Reef and Rainforest Research Centre
Trumbull
DJ
Bonney
R
Bascom
D
Cabral
A
2000
Thinking scientifically during participation in a citizen-science project
Science Education
 
84
265
275
Tulloch
AIT
Possingham
HP
Joseph
LN
Szabo
J
Martin
TG
2013
Realising the full potential of citizen science monitoring programs
Biological Conservation
 
165
128
138
Voyer
M
Gladstone
W
Goodall
H
2014
Understanding marine park opposition: The relationship between social impacts, environmental knowledge, and motivation to fish
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
 
24
441
462
Voyer
M
Gollan
N
Barclay
K
Gladstone
W
2015
“It's part of me”: Understanding the values, images, and principles of coastal users and their influence on the social acceptability of MPAs
Marine Policy
 
52
93
102
Wynveen
CJ
Sutton
SG
2015
Engaging the public in climate change-related pro-environmental behaviors to protect coral reefs: The role of public trust in the management agency
Marine Policy
 
53
131
140
Wynveen
CJ
Kyle
GT
Sutton
SG
2014
Environmental worldview, place attachment, and awareness of environmental impacts in a marine environment
Environment and Behavior
 
46
993
1017

Comments

0 Comments