Become a Citizen Scientist with the City Nature Challenge

By Danel Wentzel, 26th April 2022

Want to be a science superhero?


When you think about superheroes, what comes to mind?

People dressed in capes or hi-tech armour and superhuman abilities like flying or super strength?

How about scientists in white lab coats looking through microscopes? In real life, science is the most powerful superpower in the world. Think about it. Through science, men and women extend human life, cure diseases, and rescue animals on the brink of extinction. Scientists are modern-day superheroes, saving and improving millions of lives.

But did you know you too can be a superhero scientist? Yes, seriously!

You don't need a cape to be a super hero. Anybody can become a citizen scientist and help contribute to valuable scientific research. Image by Mac Stone | Save Our Seas Foundation

We can all be superheroes and use our powers of observation to spot and document the biodiversity all around our beautiful city. And it’s as simple as snapping a photo and uploading it to an app.

Before we explain how to activate your superpowers, let’s discuss what citizen science is and how it plays a role in conserving and protecting our natural world.



Citizen science 101


Scientists are constantly struggling to fund their research, and when resources are scarce, scientific advancement can stall. Citizen science is a way to prevent that, engaging non-scientists to gather, review, and analyse scientific data on everything from wildlife to weather to public health to interstellar phenomena.

Learners from West End Primary school learning how to identify rockpool animals using a photo ID guide. Image by Danel Wentzel for the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Education Centre

People have collected data for research for thousands of years. One example is in ancient China, where citizens recorded data on locust outbreaks. This is helping scientists today to better understand how climate change affects biological populations. The rise of technology has led to countless opportunities for citizen scientists.

​​Anyone can be a citizen scientist, no matter their age or education level. It can be as simple as uploading a bird photo to an app, or as complex as building your own weather station and submitting detailed daily readings to an online database. It can be rewarding too, as this work has a real impact, and the number of studies using data from citizen science projects is increasing.

Kids benefit greatly from participating in this kind of initiative. It encourages greater community involvement and helps them build hands-on experience using critical thinking and solving problems in the real world.



Superpowers activate


Now that we have seen how crucial citizen participation can be in scientific research, it’s time to see how you can get involved.

This year 12 cities are participating in the City Nature Challenge 2022. Hone in on your powers of keen observation by capturing and uploading as many different animal and plant species as possible between the 29th and 2nd of March.

Mediterranean mussels are one of the many species of intertidal pool animals you can find along the False Bay coastline. Image by Danel Wentzel

Make sure to look out for these easily missed marine snails, known as periwinkles. Image by Penny Hicks | Shutterstock

Perwinkels aren’t just found in the rocky shores. This beautiful flower is called a Madagacscar periwinkle and can be spotted in gardens all across Cape Town. Image by isara.itsuki | Shutterstock

The event aims to encourage people all across South Africa to get out and document nature around them. By uploading their images to iNaturalist, they can be identified by experts. All species observed during the observation period will be counted and the city with the highest number of species wins!





Never heard of the app? No problem. The City of Cape Town in collaboration with the City Nature Challenge has provided step-by-step guides on everything from capturing the perfect ID image to uploading them onto the iNaturalist app.

You can access these guides here.

City Nature Challenge How To and Guidelines 2022

The City Nature Challenge will also be hosting a variety of different public events all across the Cape. If you are eager but don’t know where to start, we recommend attending some of these events. Guides will be present to assist you with any questions you may have about nature or how to use the app.

You can find a list of these events on the City Nature Challenge Cape Town Facebook page.

Be a scientist every day


You don’t only have to save your superpowers for special occasions. You can be a science superhero every day! We included links below to learn more about Cape Town-based organisations that offer phenomenal citizen science projects.