Science to serve Coastal Communities


This blog has been cross-posted from Public Laboratory. To see the original article, click here 

by eustatic on February 1, 2013 - 10:59

black gill MQVN protozoan 1Photo by Mary Queen of Vietnam CDC

Daniel Nguyen of MQVN discussed best practices for citizen science during the BP oil disaster--specifically citizen science that the fishermen of Village d'Est conducted with embedded Tulane University researchers.

Crossing bounds of race and class, the community board of Village d'Est voted upon the study direction and decided to look at the levels of toxic PAHs in local seafood, in this case, shrimp from Chandeleur Sound.

Tulane and Oregon State researchers rode on the commercial vessels of the fishermen, and were on hand to answer questions and ensure quality of samples. Low levels of PAHs were found, below levels of concern in all samples, so the community decided not to publicize the results of the study, but instead design follow up research on exposure to PAHs in the community.

cmty meetingPhoto by Mary Queen of Vietnam CDCUnexpectedly, researchers were on hand to validate and document the phenomenon of black gills in shrimp. this phenomenon has been reported by fishermen and advocates after the BP spill, but only this study got any answers at all about the phenomenon, much less answers back to the community reporting the phenomenon.


Researchers determined that the black gill is a phenomenon caused by protozoans. These protozoans are unfamiliar to both researchers and fishermen. Tulane referred the samples to USM for further study.

By opening the scientific process and holding themselves accountable to working people, researchers could rely on the lived experience of fishermen to investigate a new phenomenon after the BP disaster.

By participating, the community board could harness the investigative power of research institutions to answer questions most pressing and relevant to the public. 

MQVN research board is interested in the long-term effects of the oil on shrimp and human populations.



Daniel's summary recommendations for best practices in Citizen Science:

  • Language Access / Cultural Competency
  • Effective Information Dissemination (people trust their friends, not necessarily authorities)
  • Work with Communities (CBPR)
  • Fund local non-profits directly
  • Hire Local
  • Avoid 'Survey Fatigue'
  • Give communities part-ownership of data


Scott Eustis is GRN's Coastal Wetland Specialist




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