Citizen science with children on marine plastic pollution – does it work?

Citizen science projects are considered to be capable of generating not just scientific outputs but also educational and learning effects. A Chilean-German research team led by Carla Wichmann including Anna Sundermann and Daniel Fischer now offers empirical insights into the effects of participation in a citizen science project based on data collected from almost 500 participating schoolchildren in Chile.

Chilean schoolchildren sampling and analyzing marine plastic litter as part of the citizen science project

This is what the authors highlight

Marine plastic pollution is a huge problem. Are citizen science projects (CSP) with schoolchildren a way to change problem perception & involvement? Our study published in Marine Policy raises doubts.

As part of the CSP, students from Chile sampled plastic marine debris on local beaches. We used a pretest-posttest design with intervention (n=494) & control (n=318) groups to assess educational and behavioral effects.

Our analysis found that participation in the CSP did not result in significant changes in almost all dependent variables, except for a small positive effect on what harm students ascribe to the problem. Age had a substantial impact on all outcomes.

Our qualitative analysis of action knowledge found that young students primarily look for downstream solutions (individual consumer behavior), rather than upstream solutions (production) – flagging the need to integrate consumer citizenship into CSPs.

Overall, we find that pro-environmental behavior change in plastic consumption cannot be expected from participation in environmental CSPs alone but that more sophisticated educational programs focused on competence development are needed to utilize the potential of CSPs.

Paper abstract

Marine plastic pollution has many different sources but it is evident that user behavior is a main factor causing the accumulation of plastics in the marine environment. Herein we examined whether participation in a citizen science project (CSP) could affect the awareness of the problem and foster pro-environmental behavior among the participants. More than 1.000 schoolchildren from coastal communities in Chile participated in this study, resulting in a final number of 494 students who were part of the CSP and 318 students who comprised the control group. Members of both groups completed a pretest (before the CSP) and a posttest (after the CSP). Students who participated in the CSP learned about the sources and impacts of plastic marine debris (PMD), and conducted a scientific sampling on the types and quantities of PMD on beaches of their locality. Awareness about the PMD problem was already high among both groups (participants and control) during the pretest. Participation in the CSP had only minor effects on pro-environmental behavior of the schoolchildren; there were slight increases in ascription of harm, awareness of consequences (related to plastic consumption) and attribution of responsibility (also related to plastic consumption) among the schoolchildren who participated in the project. It is concluded that participation in a CSP alone may have only minor effects on pro-environmental behaviors, but that it can play an important role within an integral program of various activities towards sustainability.

Wichmann, C.‑S., Fischer, D., Geiger, S. M., Honorato-Zimmer, D., Knickmeier, K., Kruse, K., Sundermann, A., & Thiel, M. (2022). Promoting pro-environmental behavior through citizen science? A case study with Chilean schoolchildren on marine plastic pollution. Marine Policy, 141, Article 105035, 105035.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s