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Queens Chronicle

Nature’s amateur sleuths want you to join them

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2019 10:30 am

Michael Faraday taught himself physics and chemistry while working a day job as a bookseller’s assistant, and ultimately made some of the most consequential scientific discoveries ever, allowing humans to put electricity to practical use. No Faraday, no smartphone.

It’s not too late for you. Aspiring citizen scientists can join Alley Pond Environmental Center’s Adult Citizen Science Club, which is looking for more participants and is open to all, aged 18 and up.

Citizen scientists are nonprofessional scientists who collect and analyze data in the natural world, sometimes in collaboration with the pros. The avocation is increasingly popular, and the work it produces is a “real thing” in the scientific community, which welcomes extra hands on deck to gather voluminous data sets via crowdsourcing.

The club can be “anything the members want it to be,” said Tom McGlinchey,” a club participant and APEC board member. Currently, the club is about gathering plant-population data in the lower estuary area of Alley Creek, just to the east of APEC’s parking lot, and uploading it to the free iNaturalist app. The members aim to document the living plant species in the lower estuary and thus contribute to the New York Botanical Garden’s New York City EcoFlora Project, led by Daniel Atha of the NYBGG’s Conservation Program. EcoFlora seeks to engage citizens in protecting and documenting the city’s plant species, in part by uploading photos of the ones found here to iNaturalist.

After meeting with Atha, a club member urged documenting a defined area, APEC’s lower estuary. Club participants, who have nicknamed themselves “the Creekers,” have since spent many meetings gathering data as conditions allow, sometimes challenging themselves through muddy trails to collect the information.

One participant had been independently gathering numerous photographs of Alley Pond Park’s flora since before the club was founded, identifying what he believes are several hundred different types of grasses; he has since combed through his archives for lower estuary photos and contributed those to the project.

Part of the fun is the wide-open prospects for the use of the data. Any scientist who wishes to can access the information on iNaturalist.

“That’s the genius of citizen science. It’s accidental,” McGlinchey said.

Dit Cheung, also an APEC board member and club participant, said it grew out of APEC’s work facilitating public symposia concerning the Department of Environmental Protection’s plans to address excess stormwater and raw sewage that sometimes overflow into the creek, proposals that are still under review. APEC realized that although it was serving children and families thoroughly, it was underserving adults and missing out on the chance to harness their energy and interest.

“The club was formed because we realized that without the participation of adults, we would not be performing the part of the mission that says we are to not just educate, but to advocate,” Cheung said.

The club meets twice a month, on the second and fourth Sunday of every month, at 10 a.m. Members first gather indoors for discussion and then visit the grounds. Participants are encouraged to dress suitably for walking in the mud and to protect from sun and bug exposure.

At the Aug. 25 meeting, members planned for their participation in APEC’s Alley Creek Walk on Sept. 22 at 9 a.m., which will be guided by a local naturalist. The hike, like the club, is free, but preregistration is encouraged.

Adult Citizen Science Club
 
When: Sun., Sept. 8 (and each 2nd and 4th Sun. of the month), 10 a.m.
Where: Alley Pond Environmental Center, 228-06 Northern Blvd., Douglaston
Entry: Free. (718) 229-4000,

Welcome to the discussion.