Spring call goes out to Canadians to record nature in their own backyards

Spring is here and with it NatureWatch and the Toronto Zoo are encouraging Canadians to get into their backyards and local parks and contribute to scientific research at the same time. NatureWatch.ca is launching an enhanced, easy-to-use, mobile-friendly website to encourage Canadian families to reconnect with nature. People can become “citizen scientists” and report sightings of frogs and toads, flowering plants, receding lake ice and even earthworms. It’s a call to the public for a nationwide effort to help track how environmental changes are affecting Canadian nature.

Started over 15 years ago, the Canada-wide NatureWatch program includes FrogWatch, PlantWatch, IceWatch and WormWatch — with plans for more programs to come. People are given information in these programs on how to use smartphones or computers to pin nature observations on an interactive map.

Robert McLeman, a geography professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and one of the organizers of NatureWatch, explains how it works. “Imagine you and your kids are playing in the park and you spot a frog. Can you tell what species it is? Grab your phone, open FrogWatch on the browser and scroll through photos of frogs native to your province until you find a match. You can even hear a recording of the call. Then, you can submit your observation straight from your phone using an interactive map. It’s so easy, a kid can do it — and that’s the point.”

“Citizen science is a powerful tool that connects Canadians to wildlife and the local environment and captures information on ecological trends over time,” says Julia Phillips, Adopt-A-Pond Coordinator, Toronto Zoo. “The Toronto Zoo is proud to be a long-standing partner of the NatureWatch collaborative and excited to support citizen science initiatives like FrogWatch to inspire Canadians to save and protect species and habitats in their own backyards.”

Observations entered into NatureWatch are combined to track species distributions, variations in the lengths of seasons and other important environmental processes. Users can access a map of NatureWatch observations from across Canada and read reports on how their data are being used in research. Data collected with the help of citizen scientists has been proven to be very reliable for scholarly research, and past NatureWatch observations have been used in peer-reviewed scientific studies.

What better way to get involved in NatureWatch than to take part in the Toronto Zoo’s Spring Toad Festival this Saturday, May 2, and Sunday, May 3. It’s a great opportunity learn how you can participate in the FrogWatch program. Get involved in games and activities, have your face painted, meet Toady, the giant toad mascot, and explore the wonders of wetlands at our Americas Wetlands outdoor exhibit.

Media contacts:

Amanda Chambers
Supervisor of Public Relations and Events
Toronto Zoo

Robert McLeman
Associate Professor
Department of Geography & Environmental Studies
Wilfrid Laurier University
#519-884-1970 ext. 2653 or #519-580-0384

Stephen Hazell M.Sc. LL.B.
Director of Conservation and General Counsel
Nature Canada
#613-562-3447 ext. 240

Scott Wallace
Senior Research Scientist
David Suzuki Foundation

About the Toronto Zoo:

Toronto Zoo has been a partner of the NatureWatch collaborative since the program’s beginning. The zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Programme plays an integral role by coordinating the FrogWatch program in Ontario. The FrogWatch program engages volunteers in monitoring amphibian populations and their habitats to determine trends in species distributions and calling patterns over time. More than 1,100 people have contributed 15,000-plus observations to FrogWatch Ontario, and the program is still growing!
The Toronto Zoo is Canada’s premier zoo and a leader in animal preservation and environmental protection. More than a tourist attraction, the Toronto Zoo boasts a number of leading programs for helping wildlife and their natural habitats — from species reintroduction to reproductive research. A world-class educational centre for people of all ages, the Toronto Zoo is open every day except December 25 and attracts approximately 1.3 million visitors each year. For more information, visit www.torontozoo.com.

About NatureWatch:

NatureWatch is operated by a partnership of geography departments at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Ottawa, Nature Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, Toronto Zoo, and the Centre for e-learning at the University of Ottawa. All data collected through NatureWatch are publicly available for research use free of charge. NatureWatch does not collect any personal information about participants entering data.