When we were children, we naturally spent a great deal of time exploring the world around us. Everything was a delight. The robins in our backyard were new to us; the spiders in the houseplants were fascinating; the squirrels at the park were endlessly entertaining.
Over time, of course, we became accustomed to such sights, and other things distracted us. Luckily, there is now a way to recapture the wonder of our youth and contribute to the scientific understanding of our planet to boot: we can become amateur naturalists.
iNaturalist.org bills itself as a global community for naturalists. Think of it as Facebook meets the BBC’s Planet Earth series (the latter, incidentally, I highly recommend!). It’s a website where you can you can upload your observations in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn more about the natural world.
You can begin your journey by registering here using your email or any social media account. You can then dive right in by adding observations from where you live, or get an informal education by browsing the Learn! section. Want to see what people near you have observed? You can do that too by browsing the observations section.
If you want something more structured, there’s an entire area of the site devoted to specific projects. For example, National Geographic is running a Great Nature Project, while AfriBats focuses on bats in Africa. Texan naturalists are particularly active on the site, with a Herps project and a bird project. Of course, you can always start your own project, perhaps to track the biodiversity in your own area.
Finally, computer geeks and web developers can get in on the act, as the software running iNaturalist is open source.
According to the site’s founders, Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda, “if enough people recorded their observations, it would be like a living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature. That’s the vision behind iNaturalist.org.”