In the parks, beaches, back gardens and forests of the country, non-scientists can help with with a raft of research projects. Technology-mad kids and their parents together log the family findings with some important national databases.
The first steps to becoming a citizen scientist is to find a project where researchers are looking for help. NatureWatch NZ logs range of projects - everything from the minute to the giant, the rare to the common - with requests for people to share their discoveries, help collect data, monitor animal, bird or insect populations with species counts.
The website, run by the New Zealand Bio-Recording Network Trust, lets nature-watchers record and share information. Anyone can log on to learn more about the weird and wonderful creatures who call New Zealand home or find a citizen science initiative to join. You can post pictures and records of your own discoveries and connect with other nature-watchers to share information or identify an unusual plant, fungus, insect or bird. One of NatureWatch's founders, Landcare Research's Dr Colin Meurk, says that in 18 months, 85,000 pictures have been uploaded with 50,000 observations from 785 observers: "It's a fantastic way to get the kids outdoors because it combines modern technology with real-world learning which should bring greater appreciation of the wonder, the beauty and the magic of nature. Citizen science has exploded thanks to changes in technology; it's a positive spinoff and one we should harness to learn more about the world around us."
King Tides Auckland
"Snap the coast; see the future" is the catchphrase of King Tides Auckland, a community project to help predict what our coastline may look like in 30-50 years with global sea level rises. It involves taking a trip to the coast during an unusually high tide - a king tide - and taking a photo which can then be uploaded to the King Tides Auckland Instagram site, Facebook page or website. Researchers and agencies can then use the photos to help work out what our coastal areas may look like in the future and plan accordingly. Aucklanders become "coastal time travellers".
Spokesman Ben Sheeran says more than 1000 photos were uploaded from the February king tide proving the value of a previously untapped resource - the general public . You can participate during Auckland's next king tide event (Monday, June 16).
Marine Metre Squared
The University of Otago's Marine Studies Centre recruits seashore detectives to survey plants and animals at local beaches or estuaries. Individuals, schools and community groups join this nationwide project to help build a picture of the biodiversity, distribution and abundance of seashore animals and plants.
Over time, the data will help monitor change in local habitats so scientists can investigate what might be causing the change and improve coastal management. Participants register to access the online MM2 database to add their own survey data and compare with the rest of New Zealand using simple mapping analysis tools. Don't worry if you're not sure what you've found because you get can help with species identification and free photographic guides are available.
Annual Garden Bird Survey
This doesn't happen until mid-winter but it's worth putting in the diary because it's a great excuse to get outdoors - or if it's too wet and cold, you can do the survey from a window where you can see birds in their natural environment. The survey is done in winter as that's the time when birds come into our gardens looking for food and shelter.
Landcare Research, with Forest and Bird and the Ornithological Society, started the garden bird survey to monitor the distribution and population trends of common garden birds in New Zealand. Observes watch the birds in their garden and record the highest number of each species detected during the observation hour.
• landcareresearch.co.nz (Saturday June 28 to Sunday July 6)
Find the biggest dandelion
How big are the dandelions in your garden? Finding dandelions, measuring their leaves and logging the findings is more serious science than you may imagine. It's a fun and easy way to illustrate what happens when plants, like dandelions, grow away from natural enemies like pathogens, viruses, and seed predators. Removed from natural predators, they tend to become big, robust weeds that compete with native plants. Lincoln University ecologist Dr Jon Sullivan, who started this project, says European tourists often comment on how large dandelions are in New Zealand. The current record holder is a dandelion from Hinewai, Canterbury with a 77cm long leaf!
Become a scientist this weekend joining Auckland Museum curators and experts to explore life in the Auckland Domain and the museum. You'll get to explore natural history displays in the atrium, go on behind-the-scenes tours in the collection storage spaces and curatorial labs to see how objects are prepared for research and display, and discover why we keep natural history collections and how we use them.
• Explorama is free, today and tomorrow, 10am-4.30pm. aucklandmuseum.com
Eye On Nature
Manukau Beautification Trust's school programme Eye on Nature at Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens has a public open day. Activities include displays, seminars, arts and crafts, bush walks, storytelling and plays, are themed around Nurturing Our Forests. There are art and wearable arts competitions, as well as a Forest Foods from Around the World cooking competition.
The Department of Conservation, Auckland Council, Friends of the Hunua Ranges, Auckland Zoo, Auckland War Memorial Museum, WaiCare, Monarch Butterly NZ Trust, EcoQuest, the Auckland Bee Society and many other environment groups will share their citizen science and environmental projects. .
• Saturday April 12 ,12 - 8.30pm. beautifulmanukau.org.nz