UNEP GEMS/Water Capacity Development Centre - Masters by Research Theses

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    In support of the sustainable development goals: citizen science monitoring of ambient water quality
    (University College Cork, 2019-10-04) Quinlivan, Lauren; Chapman, Deborah; Sullivan, Timothy
    The United Nations has voiced its support for the use of citizen science to aid ambient water quality monitoring for the Sustainable Development Goals. Engaging the efforts of both professional scientists and members of the general public, citizen science has gained significant attention in recent years as a means of increasing the spatial and temporal coverage of data collection. However little research has been conducted on the use of citizen science in water quality monitoring for the UN Sustainable Development Goals to allow for the establishment of any sort of monitoring framework involving citizen science. A literature review as part of this thesis discusses the current state of knowledge on volunteer involvement in water quality monitoring and identifies the challenges and opportunities for applying citizen science to the monitoring of ambient water quality under the Sustainable Development Goals. Considerable potential exists for citizen science to contribute to the SDGs yet concerns over data collection, use and organisational issues like lack of volunteer motivation and interest continue to plague the realm of volunteer monitoring and inhibit its use in many fields. Based on the conclusions drawn from the literature, this thesis aimed to address each key issue which currently presents a challenge for the application of citizen science to the monitoring of ambient water quality for the Sustainable Development Goals. In support of work towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6: “Clean Water and Sanitation”, this thesis tested the use of simple and inexpensive field equipment by citizen scientists for monitoring the SDG Indicator 6.3.2: “Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality”. Data generated by 26 citizen scientists were compared with the results produced by an accredited laboratory. The results compared well for most parameters, suggesting that citizen science may be able to contribute towards monitoring ambient water quality for the Sustainable Development Goals as long as data quality is maintained. This thesis also examined the effects of participation in an SDG-focused citizen science water quality monitoring programme on volunteers’ attitudes and interests. The positive results support conclusions from other studies suggesting that experience of partaking in citizen science may increase volunteer interest and positively influence attitudes towards global environmental issues, though the resulting influence on behaviour will require further investigation. Lastly, through a focus on waterbodies of known water quality in southwest Ireland, this thesis aimed to assess one potential method for incorporating citizen science data into the reporting methodology for the ambient water quality indicator. The investigation reported mixed results, revealing that the incorporation of citizen science data into the reporting methodology through the method employed would be relatively simple, however more recent data is needed from professional organisations on the quality of the waterbodies examined before the accuracy of the data may be determined. Through an examination of the three most significant barriers to the application of citizen science to the UN ambient water quality indicator this body of research concludes that, if implemented correctly, citizen science may prove an essential resource for supporting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 6.3.2 on ambient water quality.