COASST participants work to identify a bird carcass found on a local beach – sites which often elicit attachment due to natural, social, and personal dimensions of the place. Photo Credit: Clark Fair.
*Both individuals in this photo have provided consent for this photo to be used.

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We all have places that are special to us – the family farm where we grew up, the field where we learned our favorite sport, or the home where we started a family. Bonds that form between people and the places that are important to them shape many aspects of our lives – our sense of identity and personal history, our connections and relationships with other humans and animals, and our beliefs about who belongs and how humans should interact with the natural world. But could these bonds also help us understand the explosive growth and impact of programs that enlist nonprofessional scientists in the collection and study of scientific information, also known as citizen science? This article argues yes.

Research about the bonds that form between people and important places has shown that connections form for a variety of reasons – some due to special people found in a place, others because of the personal needs that are met there, and more still because of the natural environment found there. We can think of these as different dimensions of our place bonds and we can imagine that as people develop bonds with significant places they do so across a wide variety of scales – from feelings of belonging at a very fine/local area to feeling connected to much larger systems, like the ocean.

Because a sizable number of citizen science programs involve collection of information in a consistent area (place) over time, this article draws from research on people-place bonds to help understand the growing practice of citizen science. Sharing information collected from participants in one large citizen science project focused on marine seabirds and ecosystems in the United States (COASST), the authors suggest that bonds between people and important places may play a role in driving participation in citizen science. Further still, the authors argue that citizen science may influence how people connect with the places they study and how they perceive, interact, and behave in those places. Opportunities to study the hypothesized link and understand the implications are included to stimulate further research.