One Bay Area Organization Uses Technology to Connect Nature Lovers of All Ages Around the World

Spectacled bears

Found a mushroom, flower, or bug in your backyard and not sure what it is? Why not ask more than one million scientists? Despite being temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at iNaturalist and their colleagues at the California Academy of Sciences continue to work to connect humans to the natural world.

The iNaturalist app, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, connects users with a global community of naturalists and scientists to promote education about the natural world as well as create valuable scientific data for conservation. As the world’s most popular citizen-science initiative, the app invites participants to connect with nature by recording and sharing the flora and fauna they encounter every day, in their neighborhoods and even in their backyards.

“iNaturalist observations flow into scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to help scientists find and use your data,” explains iNaturalist co-director Scott Loarie. “All you have to do to participate is open your eyes to the flora and fauna all around you.  When you observe an organism that interests you, just take a photo of that plant or animal and the app will do the rest. You gain valuable insight as to the species and the scientific community has new valuable data.”

Red ink sundew

Launched in 2008, iNaturalist has grown to a community of over 1.3 million registered users, with about a hundred new observations posted every minute, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. These posts, which include over 35 million natural history sightings representing over 270,000 distinct species to date, are discussed, vetted, and curated by naturalists and researchers in order to further biodiversity science. “Just getting started with nature?” asks Loarie. “Never fear. The team at iNaturalist takes great pride in making the experience simple and fun for beginners with fun challenges and badges.”

Even while the museum floor is closed, the work of hundreds of scientists and educators at iNaturalist and beyond at the Academy of Sciences continues online. Adds Loarie, “At the Academy, we’re committed to understanding and protecting our planet. If you’d like to support this work and the care of the nearly 40,000 animals at the Academy, please consider making a donation.”

Thankfully, Mother Nature hasn’t been slowed down by social distancing—her beauty and wonder are yours to explore. Just follow your fingertips.

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