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Andrea Marshall, Part 2: Citizens and The Scientist

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Back To S.T.E.A.M. Powered | Back To Part 1: Mantas and Other Megafauna

When Dr. Andrea Marshall launched an online database called Manta Matcher in 2012, she was relying on a technique known as “citizen science” to help identify and track Manta Rays worldwide.

Citizen science allows the public to work cooperatively with researchers to collect and share data about the natural world. The value of this approach first occurred to Andrea when she realized that SCUBA divers from all walks of life were making valuable but unreported observations about the marine world. If these divers could share their sightings of Manta Rays, it would assist Andrea’s research, allow her to chart trends, and better understand the species’ conservation needs.

“It’s working really well,” Andrea told the Oceanscape Network. “What we see now is that there are huge numbers of people around the world who are really excited about participating in science and are collecting invaluable data for researchers.”

Sadly, and in spite of the creation of what Andrea refers to as her “manta army,” rays still suffer from profound public misconceptions and prejudice. This negative view only increased after the tragic death of Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin in 2006. Irwin, a passionate naturalist and conservationist, was stung multiple times while filming a stingray off the Australian coast. Although attacks by rays are rare, Irwin’s death produced a public backlash against the species which Andrea still combats to this day.

“The negative connotation that sharks or rays seem to have really gets in the way of conservation efforts around the world because people don’t get behind these animals, they’re afraid of them,” Andrea said.

“My job as a marine researcher is really to dispel some of these myths and try to get people to fall in love with these animals because I really do believe people protect what they love.”

Although there’s still plenty of work to be done, Andrea has proven to be an excellent spokesperson for ocean megafauna and people are beginning to take notice. In 2013, Andrea was even inducted into the National Geographic Society for her contributions to marine exploration.

To learn more about Andrea’s work with Manta rays, visit queenofmantas.com.

Related Features: Youth Activities: SCUBA Diving

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This multi-part series features five women who are at the tops of their fields in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. Over the 2015-16 school year, one week will be dedicated to each person, highlighting their education, careers and innovative contributions to their various disciplines — including the discovery of new species, the exploration of hostile ecosystems and the conservation of marine species.