Ready for some research activities of your own? You've seen how Earthwatch teams of scientists and volunteers study how human activities impact animal behaviors. But — the best part of science is doing it on your own.

All you need to start is curiosity and four of your five senses: your eyes, ears, nose, and hands. Some of the best scientific questions come from careful observations of the world around us. Good record-keeping is also important, so a notebook and pencil will be handy for keeping track of all that you see, or you can print an observation journal (pdf).

Observing Water Systems Close to Home

  1. Explore a location near you. We all need water to survive, and though you may not live near an ocean, everyone lives near some kind of water, from a stream or a lake to a reservoir. You can also go to an aquarium or zoo.
  2. Gather Information. What types of plants and animals live in and around the water in your area? How do people interact with this natural community? Write down the things you would like to find out about your study site. Are there any laws that tell you how people are supposed to interact with the animals? If you are going to a local park, they may have a visitors' center or some written information that might help you.
  3. Observe. Make careful observations in your notebook each time you visit your study site. You may have to visit the same place several times to get a good idea of what organisms live there and what is going on. Focus your observations on how humans affect the environment and how that, in turn, may affect the organisms that live there.
    • What do you see? Write down the animals and plants you observe as well as the human activities in the area. Is this a park with rules about swimming, fishing, and boating? How is trash disposed of in the area? How close are the houses, farms, or factories to the water? Is the water being used for irrigation or other human purposes? Is it naturally flowing or controlled by dams and levees?
    • Take some photos or draw some pictures of what you see.
    • Look for evidence of the relationships between the water, the animals, and the plants with the human activity. What are some dangers for this water ecosystem? Remember that pollution can come from a variety or sources, seen and unseen, like street litter or trash thrown overboard from boats or from neighborhood factories.
    • What changes might you expect over time? Can you think of reasons why? Each time you visit, be sure to record the date and time along with your new observations.
  4. Research. How can you find out more about the bodies of water in your neighborhood? What are the rules for interacting with these ecosystems? A good place to start your research online is through the Office of Protected Resources. They have some guidelines for the viewing of marine wildlife in the United States:
  5. Share your experience. Science is also about sharing what you learn. You might want to make a poster, model, report, write a letter to the editor of a local paper, or other project to share with your school, local community, or conservation agency. In your report, you can suggest ways in which people and marine life can live in better harmony. You may also find that when you finish your initial study, you have a whole list of new questions to answer about your study site!


Ready to show
what you know?