Citizen science (CS; also known as community science, crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, volunteer monitoring, or online citizen science) is scientific research conducted by nonprofessional scientists. Citizen science is sometimes described as “public participation in scientific research” and its outcomes are often advancements in scientific research, as well as an increase in the public’s understanding of science.
Applying Citizen Science to highly challenging environments like underwater caves of course required serious considerations in terms of safety and clear cut decisions about the diving protocols to be accepted and endorsed. We decided to abide in total to the Standards and Procedures of Global Underwater Explorers as we were in need of a network of divers not only able to cooperate together regardless of their personal background and skills (often spoken languages) but we were also in need of cave divers prepared to work applying scientific method and willing to participate into activities that were strictly supervised by non diving scientific researchers.
The connection, or interaction, between these two both very different and very vibrant communities proved to be the main challenge of the project; not simply because of the very different approaches and understandings of the cave diving scientific requirements, but also in terms of time frame expectations between the on-field operation and the publication of the results, analysis or hypothesis.
Of course it took some time to make sure researchers understand the challenges divers are facing into underwater underground spaces that can be located kilometres away from the first source of breathable gas; and the same amount of time was required from cave divers to understand the need for scientific method, precision and replicability odf a model.
Nowadays the result is a group of cave divers prepared to operate in extreme environments, with a solid understanding of the scientific methods and an ongoing interaction with researchers that are willing to invest time and energies to educate, instruct and better prepare such divers to work according to their requirements and interests.
This network of volunteers and passionate talents is today experienced enough to carry out sampling operations, data collections, sediment cores, geo referencing tasks and video/photo documentation but especially they are able to learn on the field from researchers and replicate the model at different points in time and in different locations.
Citizen science can be the missing link in sorting the divide between academics and cave divers and we as an organisation have the knowledge and capacity to provide researchers and local communities with the tools required to understand the environment while developing in a sustainable way.