Project Puffin is a citizen science project that asks the public to be members of the Puffarazzi and submit photos of puffins carrying prey for their chicks. Our Puffineers (a group of fantastically dedicated volunteers) run this flagship citizen science project, that generates crucial data for conservation science and facilitates high public engagement. The Puffineers have a front and centre role on deciding the direction of the project, technical analysis of puffin images, engaging the general public, and in communicating the scientific findings of the project. This is a stand out example of a citizen science project that is leading the way for citizen science as an accepted method not just in the UK but internationally.

The Beginnings

In 2017, the first year of the project, the team identified a massive 12,182 items of prey carried by 1350 puffins. This gave us fantastic data on how puffin diet varies across different UK colonies, at a scale that had not been possible before the use of citizen science in this way, as other ways of collecting data on puffin diet (e.g. observer watches and mist-netting) are highly labour intensive. Data on changes in puffin diet is a crucial part of the fight to save these endangered birds from disappearing from our coastlines. Project Puffin provided the first data at this scale in the UK in 2017, and was such a successful first phase that the project started up again in 2019. The second phase expanded the project over multiple years to look at changes in diet over time, which we aim to link to changes in the ocean environment to better diagnose reasons why some puffin populations in the UK are in serious decline. This is an enormous task: we have had 3500 photos submitted by the public, which all need to be analysed twice (once each by two separate Puffineers). That is over 580 hours of analysis time, which would be impossible to achieve using staff time!

Image: Katie Nethercoat (RSPB-images.com)

The Puffineers

The Puffineers all have full-time jobs or are pursuing academic studies, so the time that they spend on Project Puffin is very valuable and demonstrates their passion to help our puffins survive. It is extremely generous of them to be so committed to the project, especially during this difficult year which has been hard for everyone, and as our lives moved online, spending extra hours looking at a screen has been a particularly arduous activity. But all the Puffineers are incredibly passionate about puffins and puffin conservation and have been fantastic throughout, dedicating much of their spare time to the project. In addition, the Puffineers play a big role in public engagement, writing blogs, promoting the project on social media such as Twitter, and creating social media content such as infographics and videos. Every Puffineer contributes in a unique and integral way, helping to define their roles themselves!

You can check out a video from early in the project on the RSPB vimeo channel here: https://vimeo.com/225538405

Find out more about the project here:  www.rspb.org.uk/projectpuffin

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