Inspiring Environmental Advocacy through Citizen Science
Richard Coca, Division 2, 11th grade

When many people think of the word advocacy, their minds tend to drift towards large non-profit organizations such as Avaaz who are leading causes such as social justice and environmental stability by themselves. However, this common view of advocacy is critically wrong because it fails to promote inclusion; it fails to include the common person. Now, although non-profit organizations empower millions of people to take care of their environment, these organizations lack the resources to create intimate relationships between everyday citizens and the environment near them. So, in order to make the world a better place, not only do we have to keep continuing to reach out to the general public to create awareness, but we must also inspire people to take action. As Coastal Marine Biolab’s scientific co-director, Dr. Santschi says, “It only takes a few amount of individuals to change the world.”

An oasis within the waters of the Pacific, Santa Rosa Island provides a home to a great diversity of life. Previous trips to the island’s research station have fostered within me a great desire to promote the stewardship of resources and cultivate an appreciation for nature in others. It’s this kind of outreach that was conducted by the National Park Service that can inspire even students to care about the environment and that will allow them to explore creative ways to take action. This previous summer I was inspired to dedicate time to volunteer on the island for 4 days to protect the biodiversity of the island. The current restoration efforts on the island have showed to me that there is hope in getting society to change its current trend of disturbing fragile ecosystems in exchange for “necessary” resources. Along with others, I have helped create a genetic inventory of insect biodiversity on the island as part of the ongoing restoration program. It is projects such as these that connect ordinary people to citizen science and empower the public to help the environment. My high school started a DNA-barcoding based inventory that’s an ongoing systematic survey of bees. Prior work has been done with Coastal Marine Biolabs in establishing reference barcodes for rockfish species in the Santa Barbara channel. As a bioindicator species, it allowed us to keep a “pulse” on the health of Lady Rosa as well as the other Northern Channel Islands. My love for the island itself was fostered by citizen science and is the main reason why I find it so important to protect its health. If students could largely be inspired by citizen science, then isn’t possible that others would too? Although the island feels like a second home to me, it’s the first home to many animals living there such as the island fox and the island scrub-jay. However, protecting that home is not an easy task; that’s where volunteers come in play. That’s where other can come in and help.

Initially, one might think that because you’re only one person, it’s hard to make the world a better place by yourself. That’s why I believe it is key that volunteer and non-profit organizations continue to reach out to often neglected communities so that environmental advocates can meet like-minded individuals and take action. Deeds that help make the environment a better place can range from beach cleanups to Earth Watch expeditions as well as even just volunteering at a local school to teach kids about the importance of recycling. But most of all, I firmly trust that we must foster within our youth an appreciation for nature at an early age because as cliché as it sounds our children are the future and it’ll most likely be their generation that will have to continue to tackle big issues such as climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global surface temperatures were record warm in 2015 and are only increasing. It is for these reasons that they support worldwide science and education programs such as The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. This programs links students worldwide to corroborate to conduct scientific research on climate investigations and has for the most part inspired these students to pursue majors in STEM fields. Thus, this program has raised a considerable amount of students that will soon join the taskforce to combat environmental issues and it still continues to engage students with climate investigations.

Overall, inspiring advocacy itself is positive activism. At my high school, I promote inclusion of incoming students in citizen science by recommending them to join the DNA Barcoding Club which helps us monitor the biodiversity of the Channel Islands and aid the current restoration efforts. Another way to make the world a better place is by implementing climate investigations in your classroom if you’re an educator or by asking your teacher to do so if you’re a student. NASA offers multiple classroom activities based on environmental monitoring. Furthermore, anyone can be an environmental advocate by always reminding people to recycle, reuse, and reduce whenever possible. But most of all, everyone should come outdoors to enjoy nature and see what you’re fighting for through your advocacy.
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