"Gulf-wide, citizens' groups are gathering data about their regions and that's great," said Dr. Chris Simoniello, Director of Outreach and Education for the GCOOS-RA. "But if the data aren't widely available, they can't help when the unexpected happens. For instance, after an oil spill, resource managers must restore habitats that were damaged. But without good baseline information about what a particular habitat looked like before a disaster, it's impossible to do good, science-based restoration."
Simoniello is working with three groups in Florida and Texas to host the data that their citizen scientists are gathering -- the Galveston Bay Foundation in Galveston Bay, Texas, Nature's Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Fla. The data portal is under development by GCOOS product developer Dr. Shin Kobara, who is addressing the challenges of integrating diverse datasets collected with different methods and instruments. Kobara and his team are testing the portal, which is expected to go live this summer.
GCOOS Executive Director Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick said that the organization is hoping to expand its partnerships with citizen's groups in the future. "Ultimately, the amount of information we can host will depend on funding availability," she said. "We hope that we can continue to work with new organizations to expand the amount of data available over time. For now, we're excited to be piloting this project and making the information our partners are gathering widely accessible."
Compared to environmental monitoring conducted by state and federal programs and academic institutions, place-based data collected by citizen scientists can be a cost-effective way to gather information in more localized areas over longer periods of time -- something often missing in other datasets. Making the information widely accessible can fill data gaps and enable state, federal and academic programs to allocate their budgets more efficiently and effectively.
In addition to having baseline data that can be used to develop science-based restoration projects, the data portal can also be used in classrooms and informal learning venues as a teaching tool. "These organizations will be compiling long data sets that can be used to teach students about the types of information that is gathered about the environment and show them how things change over time," Simoniello said. "These kinds of lessons are vital for educating students in science, technology, math and engineering."
To discuss the possibilities of having GCOOS host your organization's data, please contact Dr. Chris Simoniello at firstname.lastname@example.org.