A Citizen Science Approach to Protecting Water Resources
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Water is ubiquitous. With more than 70% of its surface covered by water, Earth is appropriately called the Blue Planet. However, according to the 2015 United Nations World Water Development Report, less than 1% of Earth’s water is usable for drinking, bathing, economic activities, recreation, and to fulfill other basic needs.  To put that into perspective, if the total amount of water on Earth is represented by one hundred one-liter jugs of water, then the amount of water humans can use would fill just one standard 355 ml beverage can. The amount of potable water for drinking would be less than half of that beverage can. Water quality is not just an issue for humans; all living things require clean water to survive. Making sure this precious, usable 1% of Earth’s water remains available is critical to our survival on this planet.
Water has always been an important part of my life. Growing up spending my summers at the beach on Tybee Island, an island off the coast of the U.S. state of Georgia, I loved to investigate the tidal pools. Through the years I studied and learned to appreciate the coastal ecosystem. During middle school, I began volunteering with the U.S. National Park Service and the local Chattahoochee Nature Center, and became an advocate for conservation. I loved science, and in high school I became certified to do chemical and bacterial water quality testing of local lakes and rivers with Georgia Adopt-A-Stream. My senior year, I was honored to become a member of the EarthEcho International Youth Leadership Council. EarthEcho International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the belief that youth have the power to change our planet. Founded by siblings Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau in honor of their father Philippe Cousteau Sr., and grandfather legendary explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, EarthEcho’s mission is to inspire young people worldwide to act now for a sustainable future. The Youth Leadership Council (YLC) is a group of young environmental leaders who are committed to preserving Earth’s oceans and providing guidance and leadership to support the development of EarthEcho’s programs to empower youth around the world to protect our planet.
One of EarthEcho’s key initiatives is the Water Challenge, which builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources by engaging citizens around the world to conduct basic monitoring of their local waterbodies. The Water Challenge program website (www.monitorwater.org) and educational workshops equip young people with the tools needed to test the water quality of their local bodies of water over a period of time, report the data to a central source, and ultimately take action to protect their local water resources. Through the widespread use of #monitorwater on several social media platforms, the YLC aims to engage a greater number of young people in the Water Challenge.
The EarthEcho Water Challenge is a great example of citizen science, which can be broadly defined as systematic data collection analysis involving the collaboration of volunteers and scientists. Citizen science is extremely important for tracking water quality because the efforts of governments alone are not enough to assess the necessary range of water quality information for the many, many watersheds around the world. As such, students and other citizens play an important role in protecting the vitality of their local watersheds. Water Challenge data collection is a critical component to current citizen science initiatives and can help guide future action in global communities to protect water resources.
Ready to be a citizen scientist? I encourage everyone to help #monitorwater at a body of water near them, and to advocate for clean water in their own communities. Make water a priority every day of the year and do your part to protect nature's most precious resource.
1 – WWAP (United Nations World Water Assessment Programme). 2015. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015: Water for a Sustainable World. Paris, UNESCO.