Regardless of your religious conviction, the story of Noah’s Arc could be interpreted as an attempt at conservation. While perhaps it is not practical nor realistic, Noah’s Arc was posited as the central depository of every living animal on Earth. Project Noah is attempting to do something similar by utilizing passionate educators, nature enthusiasts, and citizen scientists to log and describe the Earth’s rich biodiversity around the world, fostering personal connections to the environment.
Project Noah began in 2010 at New York University as an experiment to create a “digital butterfly net of the 21st century”. The project invited citizen scientists to collect data on butterflies using mobile phones, kitted cameras and location-tracking technology, which then grew to accommodate anybody with a zeal for their local ecosystem. Project Noah is a public platform where users can upload and share pictures and data with the larger digital community. Pictures can be of anything that grabs a user’s attention: a grizzly bear basking in a distant meadow; a pretty mushroom hanging from the side of a tree; a fly posing as a dead ringer for an aggressive red wasp. All users need to do for their sighting to be logged is submit a geotagged picture. Users have the option to do the scientific legwork by identifying and describing the image, or alternatively, users may call on the wider Project Noah community for assistance in identifying their findings.
The beauty of this platform is it makes the enormous task of documenting biodiversity to be easily accessible to anyone with a Smartphone. The organization may help people foster a greater connection to the natural world by providing the opportunity to learn more about the surrounding flora and fauna in their local environment. Project Noah capitalizes on that connection by encouraging people to share what they would likely already be documenting for pleasure, recreation, or research on their platform. Thus, the shared information serves a larger purpose of contributing to a central depository where biodiversity data is logged, tracked, and used for research and conservation.
However, Project Noah’s members don’t just surrender their information to an online void. Members have their own “journal” where all of their contributions are logged and stored, so that members can see what they have captured and where. They can also go back to past contributions and add supplementary information, which could be classified as useful metadata. By allowing members to curate and tend to their contributions, Project Noah encourages a sustained connection to the environment. And the relationship does not stop there: members can follow each other on the platform, which expands opportunities for interaction and learning.
Project Noah’s interactive and individualized approach to biodiversity so far has gathered a wide range of information and participation. There are over 350,000 journals, 825,000 wildlife sightings, and a whopping 1.5 million geotagged wildlife photos. Those metrics show people’s natural enthusiasm for their environment and a willingness to participate in a significant effort to study preserve the Earth’s rich biodiversity.
Project Noah. (2020). “About.” https://www.projectnoah.org/about
Photo by Courtenay Crane