On Tuesday, February 26 and Wednesday, March 12, REEF hosted two citizen science panel discussions about how volunteers contribute to understanding and preserving the Florida Keys environment. The first discussion, held in Key Largo, featured speakers from the Breeding Bird Survey project, Coral Restoration Foundation, and John Pennekamp State Park native plant nursery. The second event, held in Key West, featured speakers from The Nature Conservancy, Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Weather Service. Both discussions were led by guest speaker Rick Bonney, a pioneer in the citizen science field from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY. Leda Cunningham presented on the REEF Volunteer Survey Project.

Forty-two people participated in the discussions, most of whom were themselves volunteers in a local or national citizen science project. "Most scientists usually only get to attend 'niche' meetings, where everyone in the room is talking about variations of the same subject matter," said Alison Higgins of The Nature Conservancy. "What was amazing about REEF's Citizen Science symposium is that the approach was the same (engaging the public in collecting important observations), but the subjects were varied.  I specialize in land conservation issues, but got to brainstorm and engage with fish, bird and weather scientists - It was a really great and necessary experience"

Each discussion group brainstormed next steps for the citizen science movement in the Florida Keys. Ideas included forming an informal coalition of citizen science projects, doing integrated data analysis across project taxa (effect of weather on fish or bird population trends, e.g.), starting a regular citizen science column in a local newspaper and developing a citizen science booklet for residents and visitors to learn about local projects. For more information, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@REEF.org.