Local fisherman Damião was navigating along a remote stretch of the Envira river in state of Acre, Brazil during the rainy season. He stopped at Sacado lake, set down his backpack, and pulled out his smartphone with global positioning system (GPS) receiver.
First checking the GPS to make sure he was at the right spot, Damião waited for a fellow fisherman to come by. Working quickly, Damião turned the smartphone on and opened an app for fish catch data. He then recorded the fisherman’s harvest, took a picture of the fisherman’s canoe and thanked him for the information.
Damião is a community data collector, or citizen scientist, for the Sacado lake; a natural lake used for fishing by the indigenous community Aldeia Formoso. The app on his mobile stores information about the identity of the fisherman, their fishing effort, the diversity of species caught and the biometrics of each catch. This time, the harvest was 20 kg of a fish locally called mapara and 20 kg of aracu. He explained to the fisherman about the monitoring that is being implemented for this lake.
Managing fish populations
The data collection Damião is involved in is part of a scientific survey of fish production in managed natural lakes in the county of Feijó. He is one of a number of volunteers who handle equipment, gather data, and record observations about wildlife. The fishing survey is part of a larger research effort led by WWF, the Fisher’s Union, and individual volunteers to monitor the giant arapaima or pirarucu fish (Arapaima gigas) whose populations are being managed in 30 km2 of lake systems along the Envira river. This is part of a Fisheries Improvement Programme supported by the Sky Rainforest Rescue project that hopes to achieve certification for the sustainable management of this species. The local communities who fish arapaima need information about their population and productivity, as well as knowing if arapaima fishing is affecting other species and the ecosystem. “With the annual management of lakes we want to evaluate what fish production is available to be fished”, says Damião.
Extreme Citizen Science
University College London defines Extreme Citizen Science as a bottom-up practice that takes into account local needs, practices and culture and works with broad networks of people to design and build new devices and knowledge creation processes that can transform the world.
Most citizen scientists are amateurs who volunteer to assist ecological research because they are concerned about environmental trends and community welfare. Arapaima management in Feijo is one of the pilot initiatives in Brazil supporting citizen science. The objective is to increase local awareness of and participation in conservation measures. Using volunteers also allows the project to gather data on a larger geographic scale and over a longer time period than is possible in more traditional scientific research. And working with citizen scientists gets more people involved in environmental issues. “The work is hard but important for the community. I just come home and people are calling me out again to measure fishing” says Damião.
WWF and the Feijó Fisher’s Union want to give community members a chance to get involved in sustainable development in a whole new way. Find out more information about the community monitoring case study