How can citizen science contribute to ACF connecting, protecting & restoring nature?

Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, but there’s still so much we don’t know about the plants and animals living among us!

Citizen science apps can help provide much needed data and support to scientists and researchers who are working to better understand the state of biodiversity in Australia.

Getting started with iNaturalist

What is iNaturalist?

iNaturalist is a free citizen science app that is hosted by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. You can use it to record your own observations of plants and wildlife and get help with identifications of what you see. You can also access all the observational data collected by iNaturalist users around the world using the search tools available on the platform.

iNaturalist connects you with a community of over a million scientists and nature enthusiasts who can help you learn more about nature! iNaturalist uses artificial intelligence to help provide suggested identifications for observations (pics) you upload to the app. These are then verified by experts and experienced players. All verified and research-grade sightings go into global databases, like the Atlas of Living Australia.

"iNaturalist is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature."

Step one: Download the app

iNaturalist is a free, independent app that is simple to download and easy to use. It is not owned by or affiliated with ACF. By engaging in the app, you agree to iNaturalist’s terms and conditions and privacy policy. Please ensure you read and agree to these policies when downloading the app.

  1. If you haven’t already, download the free iNaturalist app from your app store on Apple or Android.
  2. Open the iNaturalist app and create an account to sign in (you will only need to do this once).
Step two: Join the #NatureNearYou project


1. Open the app and create an account to sign in (you only have to do this once). 


2. If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, select “More…” on the main menu screen (pictured).  

On Android, click on the menu bar in the top left corner.

3.  Select Projects
4. Search projects on the app for ‘ACF #NatureNearYou’
5. Click on the project and select ‘Join’ in the project.
6. ALL DONE! Go out and start snapping your pictures and uploading them to your iNaturalist account. Once you have joined a project your observations will automatically be included in it.  

7. You can check out news/updates from the project in the app using the ‘Activity’ option on the main menu bar (bottom of the screen). Select ‘News’ in the top right-hand corner to check any #NatureNearYou updates. 

Enjoy discovering all the awesome #NatureNearYou. We can’t wait to see what you find!

Step three: Observe and record the world around you

An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location. This includes encounters with signs of organisms like tracks, nests, or things that just died. When you make an observation, you’ll record:

Your observations don’t need to include all of these parts, but they do in order to become research quality observations for science. Remember, you should make separate observations for each separate organism you encounter. If you observed something that is not wild, like a garden plant or a lion in the zoo, make sure to mark it as captive/cultivated to prevent it from becoming research quality.

How to post an observation to iNaturalist

There are a number of video tutorials available on the iNaturalist website to help you get you started using the app.

You can also see the infographics below on how to post an observation in the app on an iPhone or Android device or online through the iNaturalist website.

Additional video tutorials you can watch:


How do identifications work in iNaturalist?

On iNaturalist, you can also contribute by adding identifications to yours and other user’s observations. iNaturalist uses artificial intelligence to help provide suggested identifications for observations (pics) you upload to the app (but this isn’t always fool-proof, so it’s important the community of users and experts check this).

Each identification helps confirm or improve the community's opinion on the species that the observation represents. These are then verified by experts and experienced players. All verified and research grade sightings go into a global database. This database includes links to the local Atlas of Living Australia.

Additional iNaturalist video tutorials you can watch on this topic:

Using projects on iNaturalist

What is a project on iNaturalist?

Projects are essentially ways of pooling observations together that meet set observation criteria. While projects can be useful and beneficial, it is not necessary to create or contribute to a project to enjoy using iNaturalist. Making observations and identifying observations are by far the most important part of iNaturalist.

Projects require someone to create them and commit to administering them. A project can be ongoing, or time-bound (e.g. weekend bioblitz or bush-walk events).

How to start a project on iNaturalist

1. Open iNaturalist in a web browser and log in to your account.

2. Select ‘Projects’ on the far right side of the blue tabs under your main profile picture icon.

Once you click on the icon you’ll be taken to ‘Your Projects’ page. You should see the ACF Nature Near You project listed here. If you don’t, please see previous instructions on how to ‘Join the ACF Nature Near You Project’.

3. Select ‘Start a Project’ and select ‘Collection’ project from the two options (Collection and Umbrella)

4. Fill in the name of your project (e.g. ACF X Group NatureNearYou). You have the option to upload an icon (e.g. your ACF Community Group Logo) and a banner image if you wish.

5. Be sure to select your project’s observation requirements (what photos are allowed to be included). You should constrain the observation requirements to Australia (search ‘Australia’ and select from the drop-down menu in ‘Include Places’ search bar. Alternatively, you can further constrain your location to a specific local park, state or other geographic location.

6. Be sure to check the box ‘Only display observations from project members (people who have joined the project)’ box.

7. Select your data requirements. We recommend selecting ‘Research Grade, Needs ID and Casual’ under Data Quality; ‘Any’ under Media; and ‘Any’ under Establishment Means (see image below).

8. Select the ‘Dates Observed’ (i.e. when photos can be posted to your project). If you are organising a specific time-bounded event (e.g. Bush-walk) you can make this a specific day, or for an ongoing project keep it ‘open’ for the whole year. For ongoing projects without a start or end date we recommend you select ‘Any’. (You can change or update these settings any time).

9. Add any additional Admins for the project. Admins are iNaturalist users who will be able to edit the project. To be added as an Admin to a project you first need to join it. It helps if you know what their name is on iNaturalist. You can also add these or change them at any time.

Joining ACF's umbrella project

Follow these steps to add your project to ACF's NatureNearYou umbrella project:

  1. Create your project (see previous instructions)
  2. Email ACF your event page URL and name to [email protected] and we will add your project to ACF’s NatureNearYou project page.

This may take up to 1-2 weeks to occur. Once we’ve added the project you’ll be able to see how your project is tracking and join other projects being run by ACF supporters across Australia.

Tips on managing your project
  • Clearly communicate the rationale or goal of the project within your community (e.g. Help us identify as many species as possible in our local neighbourhood and contribute to biodiversity research).
  • Be willing to put in the work to promote the opportunity within your community. A little passion goes a long way.
  • Recruit additional admins, managers or curators to your project to help with identifications and community-building. Admins can be added on the Edit Project page for a Collection or Umbrella project. In your Project settings you can add "Members" at the very bottom of the settings page and make someone a manager or curator on the project.
  • Run contests or organise meet-ups for your local community members, friends or family. Themes like the "observation of the month" or year-long challenges encourage interaction and friendly competition among project members.
  • Acknowledge community members for their findings, however significant or insignificant. Getting a comment on your observation by the group administrator can help encourage participation. To post a comment click on an observation in the project. 
  • Keep track of the progress of the project. It is a powerful tool for sharing good news stories on the accomplishments being made by participants in your project.
Tips on growing your project

Your project can help to connect you to nature enthusiasts in your community who may not be engaged with your group or ACF. It’s important that we use nature-connection activities like these to engage as many different types of people who love nature as possible. Ideas on ways you can find new people include:

  • Use social media to extend the reach of your project and actively recruit new participants. Copy & paste the link to your project page & share it on Facebook or other social media. You can invite your ‘Friends’ and followers to join in on your NatureNearYou project.
  • Provide updates to your followers and/or group members through social media and/or email to motivate participation. e.g. "To date ACF Community Malvern has documented over 100 species, including threatened species like the Grey-headed flying fox!”
  • Promote opportunities to join in on bush walks and contribute to the project in the community. Post signs in local grocery stores, libraries, newspaper articles, presentation displays at community events, etc.
  • Organise events around your project. Examples could include hosting a day where your goal is to document as many species as you can in your local park, host a bioblitz, a wildlife photography workshop, nature journaling outing, etc. Don't just appeal to the scientist inside everyone, appeal to the artist and nature-lovers too.
  • Network with relevant conservation groups, regional authorities and experts in the local and global community to take part in your event(s) and/or contribute to your project.
  • Work with parents and educators to get youth involved. This kind of news can really galvanize support for a community citizen science project.

Running a community BioBlitz

What is a BioBlitz?

BioBlitz definition

A BioBlitz is an event that brings people together in your community to identify wildlife species in a local area. This gives local conservationists (that's you) and scientists information about what species are present and how they're faring, and is an opportunity for participants to learn about and connect with nature.

Participants spend time in nature making observations of the local wildlife, and recording what they see in iNaturalist.

Preparing to run a BioBlitz

Choose a location

Scout your local area for good patches of nature that are accessible for participants. If you are revegetating an area as part of your nature outreach project, running a BioBlitz on site is a great way to measure your impact as more species rewild the area. Check in with the relevant holder about your event so they are informed, and in case they have any tips or contacts in the area that they can share. 


Reach out to networks

Collaborating with local conservation groups such as Landcare or Friends Of groups that are active in your area is a great way to expand your networks and draw on local expertise that you may not have (yet!). Approach a group for an initial discussion to see if co-hosting an event would be a good fit.


Find local experts

Having local experts attend your BioBlitz on the day is a great way for you and participants to learn more about nature around them. Local experts can be found in conservation networks like Landcare or Friends Of groups, working as biodiversity officers at the local council, or they may be studying or teaching at a nearby TAFE or university. You may ask them to simply attend, or ask them to lead a survey group on the day.


Make a project

It's a good idea to make a 'project' in iNaturalist for your BioBlitz day. We recommend making a project that is bound by the location and date, e.g. 'Spring Manly Dam BioBlitz, 2022'. You can choose to make participants join the project for their sightings to be included, but it's not necessary as any sighting made in that location on that date will be automatically included.

Running a BioBlitz on the day

The beauty of a BioBlitz is that you really only need people, a location, and iNaturalist. You can make the event itself as simple or as complex as you like. Some simple elements to include are:

Welcome and iNaturalist tutorial

Welcome your guests, acknowledge country, introduce your volunteers and run through using iNaturalist on the day

Searching time

A good set-up is for participants to spend time at different 'stations' with a local expert at each one. For example, a section of track on site might be dedicated to looking for birds, another section for plants etc. You can suggest participants rotate stations at regular intervals, and ask volunteer leaders to help make the swap-overs go smoothly. Another option is to have participants spread out on-site with local expert guides wandering around to answer questions or point out unique wildlife.


Wrap-up and social time

Bring everyone back together at the end to chat about what they saw, share highlights of the day, and to share details of upcoming events. You might have a picnic or BBQ after so folks can stay and chat, and get to know one another.



Post BioBlitz

Follow up

Thank your attendees for joining and share the impact you had together on the day - including how many people, how many observations made, and anything rare or unusual that you saw. Invite people to your next event at the same time. This might be a weeding day at the same site, a nature walk, or a picnic. It's best practice to have the next event ready to promote ahead of time.

Keep going!

BioBlitzes are a valuable exercise to undertake regularly! Not necessarily frequently, but regularly. A good rhythm could be four per year, or once a season, to see how things change.

Chocolate lily, central Victoria. Photo: Vivienne Hamilton

Use the data

Collating the data and presenting it to local decision makers can be a powerful way to protect nature. Demonstrating the presence of rare species, trends over time, or a change in species abundance can tell a tale of how nature is faring locally and encourage decision makers to act to protect it. Knowing that members of their community are monitoring nature expresses its importance to decision makers. 

BioBlitz resources

Here are some templates to help get you started. To use them, you can make a copy of the file and save to your own Google Drive, or download the file to your computer.