Citizen Science Tuesday connects you with opportunities to be a part of conservation science with outdoor projects around the world and online projects to try from the comfort of your own home.
By Lisa Feldkamp, senior coordinator, new science audiences, The Nature Conservancy
What is PooPower!?
Remember the last time you stepped into a pile of dog excrement? Chances are, it’s not a pleasant memory.
Now think about that stinky, smelly mess – in your drinking water.
It’s a BIG problem. In America, pet dogs produce about 10 million tons of poo each year.
That’s not just a big mess; the bacteria in dog waste could have serious implications for the environment and human health.
“The problem is universal and the simple act of cleaning up after your dog has environmental benefits as well as personal health benefits. Yes, the environmental benefits of reduced pollution in our parks, streets and waterways are apparent, but many people are unaware that the bacteria in dog waste are potentially a hazard to us as well,” says Duncan Chew, Project & Community Engagement Manager of PooPower.
They are working to transform the poo problem into an energy solution with biogas made from doggy doo.
Why is PooPower! Important?
Dog feces has a lot of bacteria, more even than human feces. The EPA has many resources on best practices for disposing of waste and reasons to do so. One fact sheet notes “a day’s waste from one large dog can contain 7.8 billion fecal coliform bacteria, enough to close 15 acres of shellfish beds.”
Excess nutrients in the water from dog waste could also contribute to algal blooms that are bad for fish, other aquatic life, and our drinking water.
“In extreme cases eutrophication [excess nutrients] will deplete the waterway of its oxygen and impact the health of plants and animals,” Chew explains.
Picking up after your dog is more than a courtesy; it’s conservation.
Recommended disposal options for dog poo (flushing, trashing, and burial) are often imperfect. Flushed dog stool can overwhelm the sewage system and with both trash and burial there is still a chance that the feces will wash out into the water system.
That is why projects like PooPower! are working on using dog poo for biogas. This solution keeps the poop out of the water system and provides an alternate, renewable energy source.
PooPower! also taps the potential of dog feces to get kids excited about science.
Dog poop is part of our every day lives, easy to find, and it ties in to many science and social science topics.
Starting from dog poo, teachers can lead into discussions of watersheds, bacteria, social systems and much more.
How Do You Get Involved in PooPower!?
Get started finding dog poo hotspots in your area with the iPhone app.
“People have the best sense of humour when it comes to dog poo and the Poo Power! iPhone app is the best example of that. Citizen scientists around the world are quite happy to take photos of dog poo to be publicly published and GPS-tagged on our map,” says Chew.
Then learn more about the options for disposing of dog waste in your area. If you’re not satisfied with currently available options, go to your city government with ideas for improvement.
Don’t be afraid to educate your neighbors (politely).
“What people can do is support each other in improving the cleanliness of our parks and streets. If you’re out walking the dog and see someone who doesn’t clean up after them, offer them one of your dog poo bags as a gentle reminder to do the right thing,” Chew advises.
You might get some strange looks when you’re taking pics of dog poo, but give it a try. It may lead to some very productive conversations.
More recent research on how our canine companions impact local ecology.
Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org or leave a comment below with a link to make a recommendation for Citizen Science Tuesday.
Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nature Conservancy.