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Miranda in Nature

Meet Miranda Wilkinson, a young biologist with a big heart, ready to protect wildlife through her passion.

Miranda in Nature

How I became a wildlife biologist

Welcome Back to Nova Conservation’s Blog!

 

This month’s Field Friday Spotlight is an interview with Miranda Wilkinson who works at The Jones Center at Ichauway in Newton, GA. Learn how this field biologist found her passion in wildlife conservation and carved her path into her Master’s Degree at UF through her past and current field position

Check out our previous Field Friday Blog from our team member Mario Shimbov!

Miranda Wilkinson holding a belted kingfisher that was banded during a project with the Tennessee River Gorge Trust to place GPS transmitters on the birds for a home range study.

*All animal handling done under proper permits

Loving wildlife conservation at an early age

 

From a young age, I have been extremely passionate about animals and the outdoors. Before I discovered wildlife conservation, I thought the only career option for me would be to become a veterinarian. Around my junior and senior year of high school, I began looking into other career paths involving animals besides veterinarians. Plus, I knew I wanted a job working outdoors.

 

Eventually, I stumbled upon a few fascinating articles about wildlife biology, specifically the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone and how it changed the entire ecosystem. It was like a lightbulb went off: I knew that was exactly the work I wanted to do. 

 

College application time rolled around, and I found a small wildlife natural resource school in South Georgia called Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC). After visiting, I immediately fell in love with the program and the campus. 

 

As I began my college career and started working with wildlife, I discovered how extremely rewarding the field is. The work we do to protect nature makes me feel like I am actually making a difference.

Miranda taking a “snake selfie” with a Prairie rattlesnake (which was then carefully moved out of the road)

Early career

 

After graduating with my Bachelor’s in Wildlife Natural Resource Management, I immediately began working in the field. However, this is not a typical experience for most folks. I acknowledge that I was extremely lucky, but I also worked insanely hard, always keeping my dream of becoming a biologist on the horizon. 

 

My first job was a non-game technician with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It was an hourly technician position that focused primarily on Henslow’s sparrows and other non-game wildlife. 

 

This one job gave me so many amazing field work experiences: I got to net and band Henslow’s sparrows, do helicopter surveys for bald eagles and sandhill cranes, cannon-net shorebirds, dip-net for endangered frosted flatwoods salamanders, get certified as a wildland firefighter, and participate in a variety of other small non-game projects.

Photo_3-min[1]

Miranda with a Henslow’s sparrow for a study looking at their distribution and ecology.

Five months into this role, I managed to get a summer field technician working on a yellow-billed cuckoo project with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which is where I met Laura Marsh, the founder, and CEO of Nova Conservation. Laura and I worked together on a three-woman field team catching and tagging yellow-billed cuckoos with satellite transmitters. This position allowed me to travel across the country and gain awesome experience in the avian ecology field. 

The “Cuckoo Crew” of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, summer 2019 after catching our last YBCU in TX. From left to right: Callie Stanley, Laura Marsh, and Miranda Wilkinson.

Miranda measuring the bill length of a yellow-billed cuckoo.

*All animal handling done with proper permits

After my summer with cuckoos, I luckily got back my job with Georgia DNR and was — again — a non-game technician. This time, I worked with prescribed burning and with citizen science data from eBird to create ArcMap GIS maps of imperiled bird species sightings for Georgia’s biotics database. I left at the end of 2019 when I received a position as a Conservation Fellow at the Jones Center at Ichauway, where I currently work and reside.

 

My current role

 

The Jones Center at Ichauway is a 29,000-acre Longleaf pine preserve and research center located in southwest Georgia. This position is an 18–24-month position where I work full-time as a conservation staff member while pursuing my Master’s degree with University of Florida. 

 

My role has allowed me to get so much experience in so many different facets of conservation. From experience with land management using heavy machinery like tractors and skid-steers, to prescribed fire experience (we burn roughly 12,000 acres/year!), I have been able to gain exposure to new skills and techniques. Recently, I was even able to work with an endangered species of woodpecker endemic to the southeast, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker — which was an amazing opportunity.

A woman climbing a tree with a chainsaw

Miranda on a Swedish ladder using a chainsaw to replace a red-cockaded woodpecker artificial cavity at the Jones Center at Ichauway.

Oh, I forgot to mention I have also gotten to try my hand at welding and mechanical maintenance in my position. I’m glad that even if a position in wildlife biology didn’t work out, I have a diverse enough resume that I hope to at least find an outdoor career.

Photo 8-min

Miranda holding a female Northern Bobwhite quail during a study using radio telemetry at private land reintroduction sites to examine survival and movement of bobwhite quail.

Fellowships are a great way to enter conservation

 

My position with the Jones Center has diversified my skillset and has given me many new experiences that I otherwise would have never had. I feel so lucky to have all of this under my belt at such a young age. I am now in the second year of this position, and one of the biggest perks of this job is the amount of networking and outreach with other organizations that the Jones Center allows me to do. 

 

The center’s goal is to get Conservation Fellows career positions after they leave the Jones Center, so they connect us with other organizations including the Department of Defense, the U.S. Forest Service, Quail Forever, and other public and private entities in order for us to make connections and network. 

 

I have been extremely fortunate to attain all the experience and positions I have held thus far. Upon graduation and completion of my Fellowship, I will be working as a Wildlife Biologist for South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Specifically, I’ll be working to ensure the survival and protection of endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

Photo 2

Miranda holding a federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker nestling after banding it in order to identify individual woodpeckers on the Jones Center at Ichauway.

I believe roles like I currently — dynamic positions — are important in conservation. Many times, in the professional wildlife world, research and active applied conservation professionals are divided. You are either a researcher or on the applied land management and conservation side. My goal is to be someone who is somewhere in between. 

 

I love to do research, but I also want to be the person who is actively putting research findings into place to better manage species of conservation concern, especially non-game species. Both sides of conservation are extremely vital to the preservation and conservation of wildlife, and being able to bridge the gap is, in my opinion, the best way we can continually protect and enjoy wildlife for years to come.

 

Advice to those thinking about a career in conservation

 

The one piece of advice I give to any young professional is to take any and every opportunity you can. Be willing to say ‘yes’ to work that might be intimidating or out of your comfort zone. 

 

Some of the coolest work and experiences I have gotten has been work that I had no idea about before trying it. I am only 23 years old, and have already had some amazing experiences in wildlife and conservation, but I have also had to tough out some hard field conditions and tasks that were not always fun or glamourous. Continuing to power through tough spots and working hard no matter what position you are in are key things that I think any young professional should keep in mind when pursuing a wildlife career. 

friends

Miranda with her partner, Maritza Martinez, and one of their dogs, Chief.

Amazing experiences in field work

 

My past and current position can make conservation seem like a daunting career. Don’t worry, it’s even more rewarding than the amount of work you do. And some of the experiences you get while ‘on the clock’, are priceless.

 

During my time with Georgia DNR, I had the opportunity to spend three days surveying and dip-netting for endangered frosted flatwoods salamanders. There are only a couple of locations left in the entire world where this species still exists. 

 

Over three days, a group of 5 biologists, including myself, dip-netted for these salamanders between 7 and 9 hours a day. On the second day, I put my dipnet in and pulled out a larval salamander. I had never seen frosted flatwoods salamander before, so I had no clue what the species was that I had just found.

Frosted Flatwoods Salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum). Photo by Pierson Hill via flickr

I called out to the other biologists, and they ran over, and sure enough, it was a frosted flatwoods larva. We were stoked! After hours and hours of dip netting, finding this one individual made it all feel worth it. 

 

A lot of hard, labor intensive work goes into the things we do, sometimes to only find one individual of a species you are looking for. However, those moments you do find them make all that work worth it in the end. 

 

For me, being able to work outdoors and feel like I am making a difference in conservation. This is what inspires me the most to keep pursuing my passion, despite the hard work and long days.

 

An inspiring conservation community, but change is still needed

 

A great thing about the conservation field is the support and communication from the community. Whether on social media or in person, other scientists and conservationists all around the world are welcoming, friendly, and usually more than willing to chat. 

 

Many of the experts in our community love letting young professionals come help and get experience, and they are willing to teach anyone who will listen. Meeting these sorts of people has always been inspiring to me. I love helping out with any biological research!

 

Although we have a welcoming community filled with experts ready to give advice, the biggest thing I would love to change about the conservation industry is the fact that it is inaccessible to people who can’t volunteer or work for little pay. I was personally fortunate and have worked paid positions since being out of school, however a lot of positions posted nowadays pay little to nothing for a lot of hard work. It’s a sad reality that needs to change.

 

This can make it really hard for young professionals to get their foot in the door if they cannot afford to take an unpaid position. Work should never be free, so we need to work together to ensure employers change their tactics.

Miranda looking to the future of conservation (Just kidding. She’s using a spotting score to resight color bands on adult red-cockaded woodpeckers to study dispersal of the birds.)

I support Nova Conservation because they are doing something innovative that has been missing in this industry for a while. They hold workplaces accountable and provide transparency that is crucial for young professionals to have a good experience in this field. 

 

For those of us early in our careers, the ability to write and read reviews about organizations, connect with others in our stage of life and career development, and easily find wildlife volunteer opportunities all on a singular platform is something that conservationists have never been able to do. It’s great to see Nova Conservation providing such authentic and honest information.

 

Thank you so much Miranda for sharing your time and story!

Connect with Miranda on these platforms:

Instagram: @mmwilkz

Twitter: @MirandaInNature

Email: Miranda.wilkinson@jonesctr.org

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, why not check out all our other blogs here?

Leave A Comment

Original on Transparent

Blogs

Learn about wildlife conservation, sustainability and more. Use the link below to see all blog topics.

Conservation Biology
gabrielharrison1995

Miranda in Nature

Meet Miranda Wilkinson, a young biologist with a big heart, ready to protect wildlife through her passion.

Read More »
Wildlife Research
gabrielharrison1995

Shimbov is Wild!

Our latest spotlight Field Friday blog features Mario Shimbov. He is a passionate 26 year old field biologist & science communicator based in the UK. He has worked on projects across the globe — Honduras, Indonesia, even his own backyard in England.

Read More »

Subscribe Now

Sign up for adventure information, conservation updates, and more! 

Contact us 24/7 at novaconservationtravel@gmail.com or send us a message here

Your Community Needs You!

This Friday you can find 7 tips and tricks to both engage with your local community and help the environment.

Your Community Needs You!

7 simple ways you can help animals, people & our planet

Welcome Back to Nova Conservation’s Blog!

This Friday our blog gives you 7 tips and tricks to help the planet (some from the comfort of your home!!).

 

If you have already tried any of these suggestions please let us know how it went, if you enjoyed it and would do it again on our Instagram @nova_conservation.

Check out our previous Field Friday Blog from our team member Mario Shimbov!

Rhonda Coontz (left) and Dr. David Aborn (right) banding purple martin chicks for a citizen science project.

Rhonda Coontz (left) and Dr. David Aborn (right) banding purple martin chicks for a citizen science project. 

If the Coronavirus pandemic taught us anything, it’s that humans are hardwired to connect to the world around us. After spending much of this past year in lockdown at home, you might be looking for a way to reconnect and find experiences that benefit yourself and the world. Luckily, you don’t need to look much further than your local community to give back.

 

If you’re a retiree, the lack of connection was compounded with the pandemic. It’s even more challenging as an empty-nester to touch base with peers, colleagues, and family. The tips below are for folks of all ages, but we’ll have additional insights for those of you who are 65 and older.

Finding local volunteer opportunities

Helping the planet can start in your own backyard.

Here are some tips to get started:

Two people with a dog in an animal shelter. One person is petting the dog.

Photo courtesy of tl.maychola.com

1. For the animal lovers

  • Head to your local animal shelter to play with and care for cats and dogs. I’m not sure who will appreciate this more: you or the animals!
  • If you have the ability to do so, offer to foster a shelter animal while it waits for its forever home.
A large group of people cleaning a beach and collecting rubbish in a bag.

Photo courtesy of www.surfertoday.com

2. For the passionate environmentalist

  • Head to your community garden and ask how to get involved. A lot of the time they’re managed by volunteers and will gladly accept an extra set of hands.
  • Join a local beach or river clean-up. Enjoy the serenity of the ocean or river, help protect the animals from encountering our trash, and beautify your local community.
  • Organize a neighbourhood group that collects batteries & electronics for safe disposal.
Human hands passing and sharing bowls of food to each other.

Photo courtesy rogationists.org

3. For those who are eager to combat hunger and homelessness

  • Donate non-perishable food items and clothes you no longer love or wear to a local organization.
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen to help serve meals.
  • Join a local organization that helps at-risk folk get back on their feet through job counseling, life-skills classes, and more.
Two people on a walk in a woodland, looking at each other and smiling.

Photo by Carol Von Zumwalt

4. For the community or citizen scientist

Time to channel your inner scientist! Citizen science is an amazing way to involve yourself with environmental stewardship and conservation research — right where you are. Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as academic, you can assist conservation research by collecting data that expands our understanding of the Earth & how it works.

Basically, you can help save the planet from your own backyard. Pretty cool, huh?

 

  • April was Citizen Science Month, and we released a blog on 5 Ways You can Help Citizen Science, as well as an in-depth assessment on the difference between citizen and community science.
  • The possibilities to help are almost endless! Contributions to iNaturalist, eBird, eButterfly, or Nature’s Notebook are welcome any time of the year and really make a difference and spread knowledge to more people. You can also visit SciStarter.com to find a plethora of citizen science projects near you.

Photo courtesy of www.savetheredwoods.org

  • Another cool platform for citizen scientists living near oceans is a project called “Our Ocean in Covid-19.” 
Infographic from NOAA on ways to be a marine citizen scientist

Infographic from NOAA on ways to be a marin citizen scientist

With some many non-profits out there, you might be wondering how to verify the ethicality of an organization. There really hasn’t been an easy way to establish how much a conservation group truly gives its resources and money back to the planet — until now.

 

Enter Nova Conservation: The world’s largest database for reviews for conservation organizations.

 

Our database offers a way for non-profits and NGOs to capitalize on their environmental work through our database of organizational reviews, which displays a company’s real reviews by people who have worked with or used the company before. Our reviews cover concerns like an organization’s ethicality, how conservation-focused the tour is, and more.

 

As a passionate & adventurous person who wants to give back, you can find the transparency and authenticity you’re seeking in a one-stop shop on our platform. Know the facts before you travel, volunteer, or give to any conservation group.

 

Have you researched an organization on our site and are eager to help?

We are also growing our convenient portal for our partners to post their opportunities, making it easy for potential volunteers and donors to find unique, ethical eco-experiences, both at home and while traveling abroad. 

How to make an impact when you can’t leave your home?

Online opportunities allow you to make a difference, even if you can’t physically go places. That’s right, you can make a real impact through online action. All you need is an internet connection!

It’s safe to say most of us have spent hours upon hours binge-watching unstimulating movies and tv. So if you choose to stay at home, why not shift to viewing informative documentaries (instead mindlessly re-watching rom-coms like I do)?

 

5. Watch environmental documentaries

  • Now is a great time to inform yourself on the most pressing environmental issues of our time. Pro tip: Ask a friend or family member to watch it with you virtually and discuss it afterward to share the knowledge.
  • Check out our past blog on 5 documentary suggestions to start your binge!

Photo courtesy of www.aarp.org

6. Attend virtual webcasts and conferences

Knowledge is power. Why not gain some more information on topics that interest you? Attending virtual conferences and webinars are a great way to connect and network with like-minded individuals and professionals in the field.

  • Websites like Eventbrite make it easy to search for topics that interest you. From yoga classes to climate justice work in American cities, there’s a webinar for everyone. Bonus: Many are free!

 

7. Take online courses

Speaking of knowledge: Have you ever wanted to learn about a new topic or skill? Now is a great time to take online courses from top universities to learn anything and everything you want.

Retirees, it’s never too late to go back to school! Taking online courses are becoming a popular choice among retirees who have some extra time on their hands and a willingness to learn more about topics that interest them.

So what are you waiting for? Take this incredible time in your life and fill it with experiences that give back to the community.

 

The planet says thank you!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, why not check out all our other blogs here?

Leave A Comment

Original on Transparent

Blogs

Learn about wildlife conservation, sustainability and more. Use the link below to see all blog topics.

Conservation Biology
gabrielharrison1995

Miranda in Nature

Meet Miranda Wilkinson, a young biologist with a big heart, ready to protect wildlife through her passion.

Read More »
Wildlife Research
gabrielharrison1995

Shimbov is Wild!

Our latest spotlight Field Friday blog features Mario Shimbov. He is a passionate 26 year old field biologist & science communicator based in the UK. He has worked on projects across the globe — Honduras, Indonesia, even his own backyard in England.

Read More »

Subscribe Now

Sign up for adventure information, conservation updates, and more! 

Contact us 24/7 at novaconservationtravel@gmail.com or send us a message here

Shimbov is Wild!

Our latest spotlight Field Friday blog features Mario Shimbov. He is a passionate 26 year old field biologist & science communicator based in the UK. He has worked on projects across the globe — Honduras, Indonesia, even his own backyard in England.

Shimbov is Wild!

Mario's wildlife expeditions and story

Welcome back to our First Friday Field Spotlight Blog! Each 1st Friday of the month, we will share blogs written by different scientists about their experiences in conservation and their path that has led them to where they are today.

 

Join us each month to dive into the experiences & educational stories of conservationists just like you. Learn about their career paths, field adventures, and the highs and lows of working in conservation.

 

Check out our past Friday Field Blog interviews from Emily Nollan, Natasha Bartolotta, and Jeffrey Ward.

 

Our latest spotlight Field Friday blog features Mario Shimbov. He is a passionate 26 year old field biologist & science communicator based in the UK. He has worked on projects across the globe — Honduras, Indonesia, even his own backyard in England. Learn more about Mario’s story and experiences below!

My career journey

 

My passion for nature comes from very early memories of wild outdoor adventures with my family. Both of my parents are naturalists at heart, and I have kept this intrinsic connection with nature to this day.

 

I’ve navigated many different careers in environmental conservation. In the years post-graduation (BSc in Zoology from Anglia Ruskin University – Cambridge), I worked and volunteered at 10 different non-governmental organizations, charities, & institutions. My path has been anything but linear, but each experience enabled me to build my professional development in the wildlife conservation sector.

 

My career experiences have been long and strenuous — but so fulfilling and useful. Even non-conservation roles (i.e. customer relations) helped develop my communication skills and gave me the ability to deal with highly stressful situations. I have also worked alongside renowned scientists which expanded my analytical and practical abilities in field research, laboratory examination, project management, and data handling.

Behavioural laboratory experiments on crickets at university. I'm standing on the left.

Together, these seemingly dissimilar roles helped me reach my goal — to find solutions to biodiversity loss and climate change via science communication. I seek to bring awareness of the interconnectedness of life and inspire people to maintain a harmony with the environment.

 

Early in my career I quickly realized the mental and physical challenges of fieldwork. The idealistic vision of working with wild animals and living in beautiful, remote places quickly evaporates upon returning from a strenuous, energy-depleting research expedition.

 

Acknowledging this, I began adapting science communication, data analysis, public outreach as my forte, instead of scouring the internet for field expeditions.

 

Illegally cut forest patches could be seen even in the deep rainforest of Buton island.

It doesn’t matter if you work on saving endangered species or ecosystems or if you run an online conservation awareness blog — all conservation work is crucial. It boils down to a balanced coexistence with the world around us and an awareness and appreciation for our planet.

A true depiction of a cloud-forest (CNP, Honduras)

One of the best experiences I have had in my career was the first time I traveled to Honduras in 2016 for a field-based expedition with Operation Wallacea. I was a Research Assistant in the cloud-forest of Cusuco National Park, which is home to astonishing floral and faunal biodiversity richness, specifically endemics — species found nowhere else on earth.

My fieldwork in tropical paradise marked a huge milestone in my budding career: As part of the OpWall team, we consolidated biological research with ecotourism, integrating Hondurian culture as well. From collecting data on critically endangered wildlife to learning essential survival skills from indigenous communities, these practical field experiences shaped my passion and understanding of conservation efforts.

Found this huge beetle larva during our wilderness survival skills!

Conservation field projects are hard but worthwhile and fun


Despite the rugged terrain and miles of hiking a day, living in minimal housing and working long hard hours, field research is so rewarding. The little moments that happen while in these remote places are memories that last a lifetime and make all the hard work worthwhile.


Conducting field research at night can be especially creepy. One night on Buton Island, a small island in southeast Indonesia, our team was surveying bats via mist nets. Sitting in complete darkness, the scientists, guides, and I waited for the first bats to be caught.

 

Snorkeling in the Black Sea, Bulgaria

Then in the midst of our silence we heard a loud, ominous grunt— a rough low vocalization that sent shivers down our spines.

 

I was dumbfounded. The local guides wildly gestured and spoke in hushed Bahasa, the local language. The grunting continued. No one really knew what was happening or we were supposed to do.

 

As the guides radioed the main camp, we caught on that the noise was a cryptic Anoa, or dwarf buffalo. The senior mammalogist of the project was immediately sent down to our location. Despite studying its population dynamics for over five years, he had never even seen an Anoa in person!

Anoa photo via Steve Wilson on flickr

Unfortunately by the time he made it down to us, it was too late— the Anoa had departed. I was relieved, but I’ll never forget the disappointed expression on his face after running for twenty minutes to find nothing. However, the rest of us were grateful nobody got hurt.

 

Memories like this are just some of the many perks of having a career in wildlife conservation and research. Though field positions are tiresome and challenging, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But these hardships are worth remembering as you begin your path into wildlife conservation.

Despite the pungent smell we were proud to have retrieved the skull of a Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalu) from the mangroves

I love encountering unique and rare wildlife. A few years ago I was in the field in Wakatobi archipelago — a famous Marine Protected Area in the Coral Triangle. We were conducting coral reef ecological assessments off the island of Hoga, Indonesia — reefs booming with underwater biodiversity.

 

I was lucky enough to swim alongside a male Yellow-lipped Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina). Sea Kraits have a neurotoxic venom 10 times stronger than that of a rattlesnake! This particular one was hunting small fish hidden in the complex coral structures. Here’s a video I took of the encounter!

A female Yellow-lipped Sea krait (Laticauda colubrina) basking on a coral rock opposite our bungalow on Hoga, Wakatobi MPA

On that same day I observed the habitats of a very timid invertebrate with a bizarre evolutionary adaptation: The Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus). If you don’t recognize the name, do yourself a favor and watch their powerful punch here.

Advice to the younger generation of wildlife conservationists


From venomous snakes in Indonesia to the eerie noise of an Anoa, I have had my share of incredible memories that will last me a lifetime. Though it hasn’t been an easy path, I would never go back and change it. The ups and downs carved the path to who I am today.

 

My advice? Follow your heart. But be rational and realistic about the decisions you choose and the path you take. Avoid comparing yourself to others and don’t take things personally; don’t be concerned with what people or society thinks of you. Stand up for what you believe in and put the time and effort in to make the connections to be involved with groundbreaking research in biology. People will always have something to say, but keep true to your heart, your mission and your beliefs. The rest will fall in place.

Early morning coffee before an eight hour hike through rainforest of Buton island in Indonesia

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for help & support — I still struggle with this! Field research is amazing, but can be lonely and difficult. Months without seeing or hearing from family and friends is extremely challenging. Remember this as you plan your path early in your career — but also remember the benefits of your research and the reward you get internally from the experiences.

 

My greatest source of inspiration has been Mother Nature herself, and my genuine connection with the like-minded individuals in our community. We all come from diverse backgrounds & parts of the world, but share a common connection as we fight to help conserve our planet.

 

This keeps me going. As a realist I often find it unbearable to work in the wildlife conservation sector. We live in a world where many people simply don’t care about what is the legacy they leave behind. If you feel this way and want to find a community of like-minded individuals fighting for your cause, I urge you to start volunteering, interning, and learning. You can— and will— find your place in this world.

Uniquely adapted, Dunn’s climbing salamander uses his prehensile tail to swiftly move across vegetation in the cloud-forest of CNP

I joined the Nova Conservation team because they are here to support young conservationists in their journey to give back to the planet. Laura, their founder, reached out to me a few months ago and I was immediately on board with Nova’s mission. We have a comprehensive database of reviews for conservation organizations which allows you to assess the company or non-profit you’re looking into. What a much needed resource!

 

Nova Conservation connects people, institutions, and other scientific or nature-based tourism seeking to experience different types of conservation opportunities.


In my humble opinion, the goals and long-term mission behind NC would help our planet by providing consumers to choose ethically-conscious experiences anywhere around the globe.

 

I’m honored to be a part of a diverse team of scientists who really grasp problems in conservation from all points of view.

 

Being a part of the Nova Conservation team has aligned my personal and professional goals: helping others become a part of wildlife research and learning more about nature and our world. If you’re interested in becoming involved, visit our site and follow us on social media. We are constantly putting out helpful resources, whether conservation is your hobby or your full-time career. Or look through our database and find amazing organizations to volunteer with — and learn which ones to avoid!

My first Palm Pit Viper (Bothriechis marchi) at the bottom of a transect in CNP, Honduras.JPG

Thank you Mario for sharing your story with us! You can follow him on Instagram: @shimboviswild

Leave A Comment

Original on Transparent

Blogs

Learn about wildlife conservation, sustainability and more. Use the link below to see all blog topics.

Conservation Biology
gabrielharrison1995

Miranda in Nature

Meet Miranda Wilkinson, a young biologist with a big heart, ready to protect wildlife through her passion.

Read More »
Wildlife Research
gabrielharrison1995

Shimbov is Wild!

Our latest spotlight Field Friday blog features Mario Shimbov. He is a passionate 26 year old field biologist & science communicator based in the UK. He has worked on projects across the globe — Honduras, Indonesia, even his own backyard in England.

Read More »

Subscribe Now

Sign up for adventure information, conservation updates, and more! 

Contact us 24/7 at novaconservationtravel@gmail.com or send us a message here

Are “Citizen” & “Community” Science the Same?

What is citizen science? You can use your time to be a part of the greater good of participatory conservation projects!

Are “Citizen” & “Community” Science the Same?

And 5 Exciting Ways You Can Contribute

  • Do you enjoy spending your free time working on outdoor projects?
  • Do you feel energized knowing you’re contributing to something for the greater good?
  • Do you enjoy exploring nature?
  • Do you play games on your phone?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you just might make a great citizen scientist.

 

Citizen science can take on many forms, but essentially its purpose is to utilize crowd-sourcing to accelerate scientific research by enabling raw data to be collected at a much faster rate – data that would have otherwise taken years for scientists to collect in a lab setting. Although “citizen science” is a relatively new term, as a concept scientists have been calling on public participation in research since the 1800s.

According to SciStarter, the leading database of citizen science projects, these are the 4 features of #CitizenScience:

 

1. Anyone can participate
2. Participants use the same protocol for quality assurance and so data can be combined
3. Data can help real scientists come to real conclusions, and
4. A wide community of scientists and volunteers work together and share data to with the public.

 

There has been public debate about using the term “citizen” to describe crowd-sourced science, since there is a cultural identification (especially in the United States) with the term citizen.

 

Since “citizen” by definition refers to “an inhabitant of a city or town” technically we all are citizens. However, there is a US-centric bias against people who are not legal citizens of the United States, and thus this term can have a negative connotation for many that we need to respect. Recently, there has recently been public momentum to switch the term “citizen science” to “community science.”

 

However, both citizen and community science are two different ways of describing crowd-sourced science. Sebastian Moreno, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts, has been diving deep into this topic. He gave me permission to replicate this chart that helps unpack the language:

Here’s the bottom line:

 

Citizen science is an umbrella term used for all forms of science which includes public involvement.

 

The lowest level on this continuum is “crowdsourcing” or contributory science, and this scales up to the level of the most community involvement, termed “community science.”

 

Community science refers to projects where all aspects of the scientific method process involve input from the community.

 

All community science efforts can be grouped under the larger term “citizen science,” but not all citizen science is true community science. This distinction means that the terms should not be used interchangeably.

Deja Perkins is an urban ecologist and co-host of “Make It Count Monday” through SciStarter. She encourages people to get involved in citizen science, which she calls “people powered science,” and is a contributor to the chart above.

 

In an inclusive citizen panel she recently moderated, Perkins, Moreno, and PhD student Jan-Michael Archer discussed the contradictory terminology.

 

Perkins said she’s gotten promptly corrected at by people who tell her not to use the term citizen science even though she’s a thought leader on this topic.

 

“We have to make sure we aren’t co-opting a term that’s already being used,” she says. In other words, we can’t just redefine the term of a project when the organizers are not actually changing the crowdsourcing structure.

 

“With this fear of cancel culture, it’s really easy to be pushed into groupthink without acknowledging who’s leading this movement,” Perkins says.

 

She added that it’s important we aren’t making changes to global terminology solely from a US focus. All the panelists agreed.

 

“We need to think past using band-aid solutions,” Perkins added, “and think more about the terminology we are using.”

 

But at the same time, Perkins acknowledges that even though a term is not harmful to an individual doesn’t mean it is not harmful to others.

Deja Perkins (left) leading a birding day with the City of Raleigh's Youth Conservation Corps Team.

Do we need a better term for citizen science? Absolutely. But, according to the panelists, we should create a new term thoughtfully instead of reactionary.

 

Additionally, Moreno states that “we also need to take action and address the social inequalities that prevents people from participating in such programs. It doesn’t matter what we call it, if we don’t address the social issues then citizen science will never truly be inclusive.”

 

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

In honor of National Citizen Science Month, here are 5 ways you can get involved in citizen science right now.

1. Document biodiversity for conservation science via iNaturalist

iNaturalist is a social network for sharing and learning about biodiversity and it’s incredibly simple and fun to use. Just snap a photo with your smartphone and upload it to iNaturalist. This helps you learn about nature & helps scientists by providing data for their research.

 

You can even support your city by participating in your local City Nature Challenge. This global event is led by iNaturalist every year worldwide, and each participating city is organized by locals.

 

The 2021 City Nature Challenge runs from April 30 – May 3 and is a collaborative effort that encourages communities across the globe to document as many organisms in their city as possible using the iNaturalist platform.

 

Usually set up as a friendly competition, this year will be collaborative to embrace the healing that nature can bring in light of the pandemic.

 

Interested in documenting local biodiversity? See if your city is participating here.

 

 

2. Influence climate policy with ISeeChange

Climate change is a global emergency that’s not going away any time soon. Inspired by Western America farmers and ranchers who kept weather journals over decades to determine solutions to seasonal challenges, ISeeChange was created as a crowd-sourced weather journal of sorts.

 

Using the ISeeChange website or mobile app, you can log what you see out your front door down to the smallest detail. What plants are blooming? What animals are invading? Is it a colder or warmer winter than last year?

 

The ISeeChange team collaborates with climatologists, social scientists, urban planners, engineers, and health professionals. It uses this information to tell a better story of climate change as it’s happening in real time.

 

Climate change affects us all, and ISeeChange is a great way to let your voice and your story be heard.

 

 

3. Help ensure safe drinking water for your community using Crowd The Tap

Remember the environmental justice disaster of Flint, Michigan? Yeah, we don’t want that to happen again. That’s why Crowd the Tap was created.

 

Crowd the Tap is a data-collecting initiative funded in part by the EPA with one goal in mind: ensuring safe drinking water across the United States. Participating is easy, because you don’t even have to leave home!

 

Aside from being a leader in citizen science, Deja Perkins is also the Community Engagement Specialist for Crowd the Tap. She helps coordinate test kit distribution & establish community partnerships to get lead in water testing to people throughout North Carolina, but anyone across the U.S. can participate.

 

First, determine which material your pipes are made of – steel, copper, plastic, or lead (hint: lead is bad). Here is a short, helpful instructional video on how to do so safely, including how to enter your information into the national database. It’s that easy!

 

By participating in this simple citizen science experiment, you are helping the EPA identify which communities should be prioritized for pipe testing and replacement. Take this small step today to help ensure clean drinking water for all.

 

 

4. So many ways to bird watch for science!

Chipping sparrow coming to a feeder [George Berberich on Unsplash]

Neighborhood Nestwatch

 

Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch is a citizen science program designated for underserved youth in metropolitan areas. Focusing on nature in cities, participants collect valuable research through resighting color bands on birds.

 

Furthermore, students and volunteers can see birds up close during the banding process, providing access to nature that may be difficult to get in city centers.

 

Cornell’s Project Feederwatch

 

Additionally, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology runs Project Feederwatch November through April every year.

 

Project FeederWatch allows you to translate your passion for watching birds into scientific discoveries. No feeder is needed, and the schedule is flexible. Simply count and enter bird data online, and these findings go into a continental dataset contributing to population science. Note: $18 U.S. participation fee required.

 

eBird

 

If you don’t have geographical or financial access to these bird projects above, you can always document your findings to eBird, which is also run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It functions like iNaturalist – but birds only!

 

As an ornithologist, our founder Laura Marsh uses eBird regularly to help with avian research projects, such as this one with studying yellow-billed cuckoos with the Smithsonian.


5. Keep tabs of free-roaming cats via Cat Tracker

They look sweet and innocent, but they are problematic to native wildlife

[Oscar Fickel on Unsplash]

When it comes to invasive species, the domestic house cat (Felis catus) is among the worst. Cats have wreaked havoc on wildlife populations, but are especially harmful when they have been introduced to islands with endemic species and biodiversity hotspots.

 

Jason Luscier, an associate professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, developed an app called Cat Tracker that allows individuals to record feral cat sightings. Why? It allows researchers to study in real time the impacts and population dynamics of introduced cats on urban ecosystems.

 

There has been lots of research and debate on allowing free-roaming cats in the wild. Overall, we know native wildlife thrives when cats are kept indoors.

 

Even if you see merit in keeping your domesticated cat outdoors, the Cat Tracker app doesn’t judge. By qualitatively assessing how urban wildlife fare in areas of high cat densities over time, science will shine.


A word of caution regarding citizen science ethics

“You think you’re doing something for the greater good, but then ethics go out the window.”

        -Claire O’Neill, Earthwise Aware Founder and Citizen Science Association Ethics Working Group Co-Chair

It’s easy to see the value in participatory science. It engages communities with nature, contributes to scientific data, and it’s fun!

 

But have you considered how catching that newt or taking a picture of that bird on its nest may have negative consequences to the preservation of wildlife?

 

Part of Nova Conservation’s mission is to preserve ethical integrity when it comes to all citizen science or contributory wildlife projects. These projects can contribute financially to struggling conservation organizations, but we have to be careful we are not causing more harm than good.

 

The European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) has compiled “Ten Principles of Citizen Science.” One of their tenants is that “the leaders of citizen science projects take into consideration legal and ethical issues surrounding…the environmental impact of any activities.”

 

As conservationists, we need to be more specific about this.

 

Nova Conservation is a part of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) Ethics Working Group to develop more guidelines to ensure ethical standards in crowd-sourced data. Citizen science projects are incredibly valuable, but we must consider all angles in approaching the ethical integrity of wildlife, environmental justice, biodiversity and inclusivity.

 

You can be a citizen scientist in many ways — find the one that is right for you!

When it comes to citizen science, these suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg on ways you can be involved. Again, visit Scistarter.org to find countless examples of how to get involved.

 

Whichever citizen science project speaks to you and your passions, we hope you’ll choose 1 (or more) to help the betterment of our planet today!

 

And if you’re looking for ways to find the best groups to participate with, check out Nova Conservation’s database of conservation organization reviews. You can see what company and project would fit for you. Rest assured: Our transparency ensures you’ll be working with credible, ethical conservation groups.

 

Do you have a favorite citizen science project? With so many examples, we couldn’t talk about them all. Let us know which citizen science projects are your favorites in the comments below!

 

Thanks to Emily Baxley, Laura Marsh, and Emma Reigel for their contributions to this article.

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Final Thoughts: What I’ve Learned

Nova Conservation’s mission is to make conservation accessible to all people, and this involves discussions to find solutions to end exploitation in this industry. I hope you will continue with us on this journey to hear all viewpoints as we strive to make this world better.

Final Thoughts: What I’ve Learned

On April 6, I attempted to have a conversation to discuss the exploitation of labor in the world of conservation. I invited a number of voices to the table to have this conversation and, needless to say, things did not go as I intended. Since the panel, I have had a number of emails, conversations and follow up discussions with several of the people involved, members of my team and advisors that I trust in helping me build my organization. Rather than rehash all that was said or address anyone by name, this is what I have learned.

 

  1. Panel facilitation is not always easy and all members of the panel did not feel comfortable speaking. This is a skill that I am working to improve as I move forward in making additional connections and having these important, nuanced conversations.

2. While we all understand that conservation is a global issue, we don’t always recognize how culture and language differences impact the context of the conversation. During the call, the terms “slave labor” and “lynching” were used in hyperbole, and that type of comparison makes it seem like our modern-day struggles are comparable to the history of the American slave trade and subsequent Jim Crow era treatment of African Americans. This is a problem. And while these terms were not used in a racially biased context during the call, there is still a racial undercurrent in these terms that buzzes through our culture, specifically with U.S. history, and it needs to be addressed. These are common vernacular phrases that should be phased out, but we need grace and patience with our friends to do so. I reached out to a black entrepreneur and facilitator friend of mine for her take on the entire situation, and I received permission to quote her below: 


“I agree that everyone has something to learn in this but there has to be care in calling people racist for not having yet abandoned common terminology that is still very much prevalent in society. That takes time and it’s worth discussing but not in a manner that makes people walk away from the table and not be willing to continue the conversation. Hyperbole does not equal racism.”

 

3. The conversation around exploitation in conservation involves many of us but POC are especially underrepresented in opportunities and often excluded because the barrier for entry is so high. A common comment that I received following the call was there was not a POC included. As a white woman and ally to POC, I always want to be respectful of the actions that I take and to not do so without careful counsel. Again, my entrepreneur friend is quoted below addressing the lack of diversity we often see (and will likely continue to see for some time):


“While I agree that it would have been nice to have some People of Color on the call, if discussing the problem requires POCs to be in the room, many of these conversations will never happen. I work in a field that is dominated by white men. I am often the only POC and sometimes the only woman in the room. The work of making improvements has to happen whether we are in the room or not. I find it worse to wait for one token POC to be in the room before having the conversation than to have the conversation in their absence. We will never be in the room if the people already in the room didn’t talk about it and get comfortable with making the invitations. Work doesn’t halt just because they couldn’t be there. That’s exactly why so many POC say they are tired of having to educate white people. We are not always needed for the conversations to happen and change to be initiated.”


This is, however, not an excuse for the underrepresented panel. We value inclusivity and will do better.

 

4. Difficult conversations are labeled difficult for a reason. Social media doesn’t always allow for those difficult conversations to happen without immediate backlash and missteps. And the immediacy of it all caused me to react and apologize and react again before I had taken the time to really absorb the lessons in this. I may need some more time to learn how to host panels, but I would like to continue to have these discussions in order to find tangible solutions to end exploitation in this industry.


This is the mission of Nova Conservation: to make the conservation sector more accessible for all. I hope you will continue with us on this journey to hear all viewpoints as we strive to make this world better.