First Mexico, then the world? Where next for our seaweed community science collaboration

In my last blog, the team had just arrived back from our final workshop for the Big Seaweed Search Mexico partnership and I reported on day one. On day two, we headed to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) campus just outside Mérida to explore how we could expand our work in the region. This is a big motivation for me personally – that our work could have a positive impact on the lives of local communities, so I was really excited for that!

The science team started proceedings by talking about their collaborative work to evaluate changes in the seaweed brought ashore over time in two locations: Sisal and Puerto Morelos. The science team captured and analysed the data, but trained locals to carry out a simple method to estimate 1) the abundance, and 2) the relative composition of different species of seaweed. Participants used quadrats to sample the seaweed; they washed and dried out the samples, before soaking them in alcohol for preservation at the university. We were lucky to see the kit and the samples in the lab afterwards!

A classroom of people preserving seaweed that they had collected on the beach in Mexico.
Preserving the seaweed collected on the beach, back at the University.

We then heard about the amazing outcomes for participants and evidence of change in the participants’ perceptions and knowledge of seaweed from my colleague Ana. Questionnaires before and after participation in workshops and seaweed collection, showed that participants increased their use of scientific words to describe seaweed by 33%, including the name of the genus and species. Participants felt more confident in the scientific activities they carried out, and reported more positive attitudes towards science and nature. Some even shared their experience with friends and family, and started to do the activity in their own time.

Two participants on the beach in Puerto Morelos, taking part in Ciencia en Acción - the Mexican name for the Big Seaweed Search
The Big Seaweed Search is called “Ciencia en Acción: Ciudadanos Navegando el arribazón” in Mexico. This literally translates as “Science in Action, citizens sailing in the arribazón” – arribazón is a very specific word for the abundance of marine life

Finally, we looked to the future and the relevance of our findings for local policy makers. It was wonderful to hear stakeholders’ enthusiasm for rolling out the project. There was real excitement about the project’s potential for increasing knowledge about the region’s seaweed, and how it could inspire and inform the next generation. Satellites already monitor the seaweed tides, which has even been reported by the UK media. Some stakeholders mentioned advanced algorithms that process satellite data and calculate the volume of seaweed. Despite this, satellite images can’t tell us how many different types of seaweed are in these tides. This is where participants in our programme were able to step in. There is genuine potential for communities to work alongside satellite monitoring programmes to track the seaweed tides and their impact in the region.

The team is now busy writing papers and a brief for policy makers, which will summarise our recommendations, in light of the insights we gained at this workshop. It will be solutions-focused and frame our findings not only within the work already going on the region, but also the benefits and challenges we found of adapting Big Seaweed Search here. Let’s see where we can take the project next…first Mexico, then a global network of seaweed community science projects…?! Follow @NHM_CitSci on Twitter to keep updated.