Citizen Scientists Aid Global Forestry Research Effort
Such wide engagement of community stakeholders and the general public in scientific forest and climate change research has been an effective way to nurture their environmental stewardship.
Hundreds of ‘citizen scientists’ have helped HKU scholars to count and identify 81,000 trees in a 20-hectare plot in Tai Po, as part of an international programme to deepen understanding of the diversity and sustainability of forests.
The project was initiated in 2011, when HKU joined the Forest Global Earth Observatory(ForestGEO), a programme that originated in Panama in the 1960s and now operates in 24 countries on six continents. Every five years, each country counts, measures and categorises trees within a set plot to provide scientists with long-term data for local and international studies. Local project partners include Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden and the Society for Community Organization. The Hongkong Bank Foundation funded the project in the first four years.
Dr Chi Hang Hau of the School of Biological Science is leading Hong Kong’s contributions. He firstly organised forest education programmes for more than 2,000 people including green group leaders, journalists, corporate staff of HSBC, interns from eight local universities, secondary school teachers and students, and the general public, and produced training and teaching materials for geography, liberal studies and biology under the New Senior Secondary curriculum. They were trained on climate change, forest dynamics and sustainability topics.
From these groups, about 360 volunteers were recruited to help measure and count every tree and stem that was larger than one centimetre in diameter at 1.3 meters or higher at the Tai Po plot. These citizen scientists also identified 173 tree species under the supervision of HKU scientists.
“Such wide engagement of community stakeholders and the general public in scientific forest and climate change research has been an effective way to nurture their environmental stewardship,” Dr Hau said.
The survey was completed in 2015. With the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department’s support, the 20-hectare forest observatory plot at Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve has become a permanent site for education and training and long-term forest biodiversity monitoring.
“The data can also be used to decide how to offset carbon by calculating how much carbon is absorbed by different forests in the world,” Dr Hau said.
The training packages developed by the project team were endorsed by the Education Bureau, and many teachers are using the materials for teaching geography, liberal studies and biology.
Dr Chi Hang Hau of the School of Biological Sciences and his team members in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Dr Winnie Wai Yi Law, Ms Joyce Wan Chi Chow, Mr Ryan Siu Him Leung, Miss Vivian Hoi Shan Leung, Miss Sianna Si In Yiu, Mr Kimchi Wing Fung Lo and Miss Shirley Yuen Ling Mak, received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2017 of the Faculty of Science for the project ‘Global Forest Observatory: Public Involvement and Training in Scientific Research in Hong Kong’.