Citizen Science in Beringia: Bilateral Collaboration between Citizens and Scientists in the Arctic

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Fred Strebeigh
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The Bering Strait divides the United States and Russia in the Arctic. While Arctic marine mammals travel through the Strait and from continent to continent uncontested, political barriers often prevent regional citizens and scientists from doing the same. But the people of the Arctic and the scientists and conservationists who work there share overlapping interests. Both groups are invested in the preservation of marine mammal populations dependent on a healthy Arctic for survival. Where political barriers divide, a form of collaborative research called citizen science could bridge the Bering Strait. Citizen science is a growing field. Scientists and community members worldwide are finding that collaboration in research and monitoring benefits both parties. Successful citizen science programs have the potential to bridge cultures and fill scientific knowledge gaps. In the case of monitoring, conservation, and research that must occur bilaterally, citizen science can prove particularly productive. The incorporation of community and cultural interests in the field of ecological research bridges political differences. But can bilateral citizen science be similarly productive in Beringia? What are the marks of a successful citizen science project in this region? How can citizens and scientists in the Arctic successfully collaborate to answer shared social and ecological questions? In the Bering Strait, two organizations are providing incredible insight into those questions. The Association of Traditional Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka, and the World Wildlife Fund’s “Umky Patrol” are two powerful examples of bilateral citizen and scientist collaborations between the United States and Russia. Case studies of these programs identify key features and challenges citizen science programs in this region face and may help lay ground work for the development of new programs, better relations, and more comprehensive research in the region.