How to Make Ocean Data Gathering Awesome With Tech #CitizenScience #ocean #tech #science

SmartFin for Citizen Science

There are plenty of sensors being used in the ocean, but how many are attached to surfboards? Smartfin is a project that harnesses the talent of surfers to survey the ocean near shorelines using a special fin hacked with tech. I’ve been watching this project since its inception and now it is gathering momentum according to a post by partner Scripps Institution of Oceanography. A few people received the first of the fins at a recent meeting in San Diego of Surfrider Foundation, another non-profit partner and ocean protector. The combination of science and surfing has plenty of appeal according to Andy Stern, Smartfin’s founder.

“Surfers are worshipped by young people,” Stern said. “It’s hard to engage young people in environmental stuff, and you know if I go talk to the Sierra Club, they’re all old folks like me. And it’s also hard to talk about climate change in a way that’s not awful, boring depressing, or gloomy.” Smartfin is different, he said. “There’s nothing gloomy or depressing about Smartfin. It’s entertaining. People want to hear more,” Stern said. “It lends itself to goofiness, and at the heart of it it’s deadly serious.”

SmartFin Boards

I had to do some sleuthing to find a photo of their boards and luckily a post from NewAtlas shows one of their early prototypes. For now the fin can collect temperature, pH and GPS location, which connects to a phone app. However, in the future the hope is to include salinity, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll sensing capabilities. Monitoring the ocean is crucial now with climate change, so using surfers as citizen scientists not only creates plenty of testing opportunities, but also communication opportunities. It’s all about engaging a community around climate change and standing up for the ocean. Check out the teaser on the project from PBS’s recent series The Crowd & the Cloud and make sure to spread the word with your surfer and scientist friends.

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  1. I am a surfer and windsurfer, and think this is a brilliant way to get young people engaged in environmental monitoring and just understanding how technology can make a difference! Bravo to Smartfin – can’t wait to get my own, maybe a windsurf model so I can help monitor local lakes in Finland? At the Micro:bit Foundation we’ll look into doing a series on how kids can get involved with monitoring their environment in the future.

    Zach Shelby

  2. @Zach, it is an amazing project. I wanted to let you know that if you have a strong interest in combining open source hardware and environmental issues that you should check out Public Lab. They are a non-profit organization uniting scientists and citizen scientists around the world working with tech (as well as low tech 🙂 ). You will find plenty of great hardware examples that include anything from Raspberry Pi for aerial photography to DIY spectrometers. Wishing you luck with your education programs!

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