What’s in the water? How citizen science can make vacation and conservation efforts more meaningful

Walking along the Cabril River in Portugal, I saw no sign of cute, fairytale-like woodland creatures like foxes or otters. Instead, I saw heaps of people, stretched out on blankets, picnicking and relaxing. Walking upstream, we found an area where we could do what we came for and collect water samples. Donning sterile blue gloves, we scooped water from the river, carefully filtered the samples, and gave them to our guide to send off for analysis. Soon, we would learn about the life inhabiting the area—all the life we weren’t able to see.

In the country with Exodus Travels on their ‘Walking and Wine’ adventure, the main focus had, so far, been exploring Portugal’s wine regions. We hiked in the Douro Valley, visited wineries and learned about wine cultivation.

But on this day, we were taking part in what scientists refer to as community or “citizen” science, which some companies in the travel industry are incorporating into trips. For our particular contribution, we were collecting freshwater samples to be analyzed in a lab. The hope is that participants and scientists alike can learn more about the animals that use the area through the environmental DNA that organisms leave behind.

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