It's been 17 years since I first became involved in field research and while the many on-the-water-hijinks and marine life encounters will always be the most vivid memories; I’ll never forget that first data sheet I completed. Clad in a dripping wetsuit, trying to warm up between dives surveying eelgrass beneath the cold May waters off Gloucester, Massachusetts. I gripped the pencil, tip sharpened with my dive knife, while my supervisor watched me transcribe notes from our dive slate to the paper form. All the while I did my best to keep saltwater runoff from ruining the allegedly waterproof paper form. I don’t care what anyone says, there’s just no such thing as waterproof paper.
Back in the lab I'd again transcribe my field notes from paper to an excel spreadsheet where all our data lived and would eventually be used for analysis. I'd spend a solid half day entering data into that excel spreadsheet for every four or five days in the field. It was my first job doing field work and in the seventeen years that followed I've participated in field research on coral reef fishes in Belize, Humpback Whales in Massachusetts, sharks in Honduras, sea turtles in Dominica and even vessel trip reporting data submitted by the fishing industry to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The same thought I first had in Gloucester has occurred to me regularly for years since -why isn't there a better way?
Dozens of field research projects, who knows how many paper forms ruined, hundreds more forms entered into databases and countless transcription errors corrected later, I'm excited to be part of Conserve.IO- a company working to enable researchers to leverage mobile technology to make research and conservation more effective. If we do our job right, the paper form will soon become extinct and it’s disappearance ushers in a new age of data collection that is our way of helping stem the loss of biodiversity. In upcoming blogs I’ll share news on our efforts to enable data collection and dissemination using mobile technology-I’ll share with you information on how to tackle those fears of data loss, return on investment, and equipment durability in the field. While I’ll never be able to eliminate the waterlogged, mosquito bitten, feelings that come with anyone’s field work, I’m confident Conserve.IO is a catalyst for understanding biogeography, capturing high quality ecological data, and enabling conservation communications like never before. Paper forms, your days are numbered…
Here at Conserve.IO we’re not just about enabling better data collection for scientists, we want to leverage the one billion smartphones already out there as a network of citizen scientists. Imagine if we had one billion eyes on the planet, we could do some amazing things to better understand the world around us. Smartphones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Those one billion phones are expected to double by 2015. Leveraging that explosive market for conservation of our natural world is what we are all about. Imagine if those billion smartphones were pointed at the world around us? They could become an army of naturalists monitoring how plant and animal distribution is changing as our climate changes, people could use their smartphones to tell us about a new invasive species in their backyard and the millions of whale watchers around the world could be mapping the worlds whales in a coordinated global effort. Just imagine all the great conservation data that might flood in if we enabled a way for those billion smartphones to act as tiny sensors monitoring our planet? t Well, that’s exactly what we’re accomplishing as we enable mobile data collection like never before.