Citizen science data quality: Harnessing the power of recreational SCUBA divers for rockfish (Sebastes spp.) conservation




Gorgopa, Stefania M.

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Monitoring rare or elusive species can be especially difficult in marine environments, resulting in poor data density. SCUBA-derived citizen science data has the potential to improve data density for conservation. However, citizen science data quality may be perceived to be of low quality relative to professional data due to a lack of ‘expertise’ and increased observer variability. We evaluated the quality of data collected by citizen science scuba divers for rockfish (Sebastes spp.) conservation around Southern Vancouver Island, Canada. An information-theoretic approach was taken in two separate analyses to address the overarching question: ‘what factors are important for SCUBA-derived citizen science data quality?’. The first analysis identified predictors of variability in precision between paired divers. We found that professional scientific divers did not exhibit greater data precision than recreational divers. Instead, precision variation was best explained by study site and divers’ species identification or recreational training. A second analysis identified what observer and environmental factors correlated with higher resolution identifications (i.e. identified to the species level rather than family or genus). We found divers provided higher resolution identifications on surveys when they had high species ID competency and diving experience. Favorable conditions (high visibility and earlier in the day) also increased taxonomic resolution on dive surveys. With our findings, we are closer to realizing the full potential of citizen science to increase our capacity to monitor rare and elusive species.



citizen science, data quality, marine conservation, SCUBA diving, precision, resolution, observer expertise, observer error