Citizen Science in North Macedonia

Development of Citizen Science Approaches in North Macedonia

North Macedonia is increasingly embracing citizen science, reflecting a broader European trend that actively engages the public in scientific research and data collection. While citizen science is still in its nascent stages in the country, it shows promise, particularly in the domains of environmental monitoring, conservation, and sustainability. Local organizations, academic institutions, and environmental NGOs collaborate to nurture citizen science in North Macedonia.

In recent years, citizen science initiatives have begun to emerge, contributing to increased awareness of the concept among the public. However, there is still work to be done in terms of fostering a comprehensive understanding and acceptance of citizen science among policymakers and the broader population.

Local organizations, academic institutions, and environmental NGOs actively engage in advancing citizen science in North Macedonia. These partnerships serve to unite scientists, practitioners, and stakeholders, promoting the growth of the citizen science community within the country. Their collective efforts include promoting citizen science projects, communicating initiatives, organizing science outreach events, and conducting research. Collaboration is a fundamental aspect of shaping the citizen science landscape in North Macedonia.

Citizen science initiatives rely on highly engaged scientists and enthusiastic citizens. Scientists assume various roles, encompassing public education, project initiation, advisory responsibilities, and ethical data management. While a diverse range of citizen science projects are underway, challenges persist. Policymakers are yet to fully acknowledge the potential of citizen science, and scientists themselves may require further enlightenment regarding the benefits of public participation in scientific processes. The distribution of projects remains diverse in terms of themes and geographic coverage.

North Macedonia’s history of community-driven initiatives underscores the significance of collaboration between scientific experts and local communities. Such collaborations are integral to environmental protection, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development. Together, participants contribute to local communities and society at large by supplying valuable data for scientific research. These endeavors empower North Macedonia to address contemporary environmental challenges effectively.

As citizen science gains momentum, North Macedonia is poised to become a more active participant, fostering scientific research, community engagement, and a sustainable, ecologically conscious future. The rise of citizen science promises enhanced public awareness and involvement in scientific endeavors, aligning with Europe’s vision of an informed and active citizenry driving scientific progress.

 

Major Environmental Challenges in North Macedonia

Air Quality and Pollution

North Macedonia faces significant air quality challenges, especially in urban areas, due to industrial emissions, traffic, and residential heating. Particulate matter (PM) pollution, especially PM2.5 and PM10, poses a severe threat to public health. The country has one of the highest levels of PM pollution in Europe, leading to respiratory problems and cardiovascular diseases. The major sources of air pollution are coal-fired power plants, industrial facilities, and heavy traffic. To combat this issue, various citizen science initiatives have emerged, monitoring air quality and raising awareness about the consequences of air pollution. These efforts empower citizens with knowledge and data to advocate for cleaner air and more sustainable urban environments.

 

Biodiversity Loss

North Macedonia is characterized by diverse ecosystems, including mountainous terrain, lakes, and unique biodiversity. However, these ecosystems are under threat from habitat destruction, deforestation, and climate change. The country is home to a variety of species, such as the Balkan lynx, which is critically endangered. The loss of habitats due to deforestation and infrastructure development poses a significant challenge. Citizen science projects in North Macedonia focus on cataloging and safeguarding the nation’s natural heritage, supporting conservation efforts, and contributing to scientific knowledge about biodiversity in the region.

 

Climate Change Impacts

North Macedonia, like many regions, faces the consequences of climate change, including rising temperatures and altered weather patterns. These shifts result in more frequent and severe heatwaves, droughts, and intense rainfall, affecting agriculture, water resources, and urban infrastructure. Citizen scientists are actively engaged in monitoring these changes, providing valuable data for research and adaptation strategies to address climate change. They work on projects related to climate monitoring, weather data collection, and studying the local effects of a changing climate. These efforts contribute to more informed decision-making and planning for a more sustainable future.

 

Water Quality and Management

The quality and sustainability of North Macedonia’s water resources are vital, given its numerous lakes, rivers, and rich aquatic ecosystems. However, pollution and eutrophication from agricultural runoff, inadequate wastewater treatment, and illegal waste dumping threaten these valuable water bodies. Citizen science projects play a crucial role in monitoring the health of aquatic ecosystems, identifying sources of pollution, and working toward more effective water management and conservation. These initiatives provide data essential for protecting and managing the country’s water resources.

 

Land Use and Urbanization

Rapid urbanization and land development in North Macedonia present complex challenges. Urban expansion often leads to land degradation, loss of green spaces, and environmental problems. Citizen science initiatives focus on understanding the impact of construction and urbanization on local ecosystems. Their efforts provide valuable data for informed decisions regarding sustainable urban development, green infrastructure, and environmental conservation.

The comprehensive engagement of citizen science in addressing these environmental challenges reflects North Macedonia’s dedication to improving environmental quality, enhancing public awareness, and fostering a more sustainable and ecologically conscious nation.

 

Citizen Science Projects iN North Macedonia

AirCare (Macedonian: Moj Vozduh) Initiative

The AirCare initiative is a prominent citizen science project dedicated to air quality monitoring in North Macedonia. It actively engages citizens in collecting data on air pollution levels through a network of air quality monitoring devices. By providing real-time data on air quality, this project raises awareness of air pollution issues, empowering individuals and communities to take informed actions to improve air quality. For more information and to participate, please visit the AirCare website.

 

“Report а Landfill” (Macedonian: Prijavi deponija!)

This citizen science initiative encourages the public to report and document illegal landfills in North Macedonia. It plays a crucial role in addressing environmental issues by actively involving citizens in the process of identifying and reporting illegal waste disposal sites. For more information and to participate, please visit the “Prijavi deponija!” website.

 

“The Trapped Lungs of the City” / “The Trapped Trees”

This innovative project focuses on understanding the impact of air pollution on urban trees and vegetation in North Macedonia. By involving citizens in data collection and analysis, it sheds light on the effects of air pollution on the environment and the importance of green spaces in cities. To get involved and learn more about this project, please visit the project website.

 

Citizen Science in Service to Biodiversity Protection

Carried out by Eko-svest and Natura MK from November 2021 to June 2022, this project aimed to engage local volunteers and visitors in mapping plant species at the Monument of Nature Vevchani springs, enhancing forest protection through citizen science. The initiative involved educational activities, app development, and training, contributing to the preservation of this protected area. For further information, please visit https://www.pont.org/citizen-science-in-service-to-biodiversity-protection/.

 

Encouraging Children and Youth in North Macedonia to Become Drivers of Change to Reduce the Vulnerability of Communities to Climate Change

This project is a vital initiative that focuses on enhancing environmental education and climate change awareness among children and youth in North Macedonia. While it doesn’t strictly adhere to the citizen science model, it plays a significant role in promoting environmental consciousness and sustainable practices among the younger generation.

This UNICEF-supported project, implemented by the Association for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment, Eco Logic, aims to empower educational institutions, teachers, and students across the country. Its primary objective is to improve existing educational programs, develop new skills and knowledge, and emphasize innovation and interactivity in environmental education and climate change adaptation.

The program encompasses various phases, with the first phase scheduled from August 2021 to August 2022. Activities include conducting research, preparing educational materials, building the capacity of teachers and staff, supporting youth initiatives, and publishing resources to strengthen education and green job opportunities. For more information on this project, please visit their website at https://ecologic.mk/unicef/.

 

These citizen science projects signify North Macedonia’s commitment to addressing environmental issues and engaging its citizens in scientific research. By actively involving the public in environmental monitoring and sustainability efforts, North Macedonia aims to build a more environmentally aware and responsible nation, embracing the collective power of its citizens for a better future.

 

Field Research Findings

The North Macedonian field research explored various facets of environmental awareness and engagement within the country. This investigation, conducted as part of the broader GEA project, involved diverse participants, including adults, disadvantaged adults, adult educators, and citizen science experts, with the aim of gaining insights into the environmental consciousness of North Macedonian adults.

 

Low Awareness of Citizen Science

The North Macedonian field research revealed a limited understanding of ‘citizen science’ among adult respondents. In fact, only 27% of the participants indicated prior familiarity with the term “citizen science” and “citizen scientist,” while the majority were not acquainted with these concepts. It’s noteworthy that most respondents (70%) held a somewhat vague understanding of citizen science, perceiving it as a form of scientific engagement wherein citizens participate in research, advocacy, policy-making, and decision-making processes.

 

 

Social Dimensions of Environmental Challenges

There is a strong connection between environmental challenges and social dimensions. Participants highlight that various environmental problems, including waste management, air pollution, deforestation, and wildfires, are often rooted in human behavior and a lack of eco-consciousness among the adult population. These behaviors range from improper waste disposal to open burning of waste and illegal landfills. Poverty, local industry, and uncontrolled urbanization also exacerbate these issues.

 

Key Environmental Concerns

Participants identify waste as a primary environmental concern in North Macedonia, along with pollution, air pollution, deforestation, wildfires, and climate change-related issues such as heat waves and changes in weather patterns. While these concerns are diverse, they are interconnected and often stem from similar human activities, such as improper waste management and uncontrolled urbanization. 

Local Environmental Initiatives

Local environmental initiatives, especially community clean-up actions, are considered effective in addressing some environmental issues. However, participants express concerns about the continuity of these actions. Many feel that more should be done by municipalities and public institutions, in collaboration with non-profit organizations, to organize regular and consistent initiatives that mobilize the general public. These actions should focus on preventing waste and pollution, rather than simply addressing the consequences.

 

 

Adult Environmental Education

There is a recognized lack of year-round environmental learning opportunities for adults in North Macedonia. While some opportunities are offered by non-profit organizations, participants emphasize that these activities often lack continuity and are project-dependent. They express a need for systematic and ongoing adult environmental education provided by municipalities, public institutions, and educational organizations. These programs should aim to build awareness, understanding, and skills in environmental protection, and cover a range of topics, including waste management, pollution, and sustainable practices.

 

 

Participation in Citizen Science Projects

While participants in the focus groups are familiar with citizen science as a concept, they believe that citizens are not well-informed about opportunities for participation. Engagement in citizen science projects is limited, with many individuals lacking motivation to get involved. This can be attributed to a lack of interest in the topics, skepticism about the effectiveness of individual contributions, and a feeling of powerlessness.

 

 

Insights

The field research underscores the need for increased awareness and promotion of citizen science in North Macedonia. Environmental challenges are intricately connected to human behavior and socio-economic factors, demanding comprehensive and systematic approaches to address them. Key concerns encompass waste management, pollution, deforestation, wildfires, and climate change effects. While local environmental initiatives are seen as valuable, they require greater continuity and focus on preventive actions. Adult environmental education is considered essential to build eco-consciousness, while citizen science projects hold potential for both environmental protection and public education. Addressing these findings can contribute to a more eco-conscious and informed society in North Macedonia, better equipped to tackle environmental challenges.

 

 

Conclusions

 

The North Macedonian research project has meticulously synthesized insights from desk research and field research, weaving together a comprehensive tapestry of citizen science and environmental awareness among North Macedonian adults. These findings uncover not only commonalities but also intriguing distinctions, creating a rich and nuanced portrait of North Macedonia’s environmental landscape. Foremost among these insights is the prevailing concern of limited awareness and understanding of ‘citizen science’ among North Macedonian adults. This underscores the critical need for targeted awareness campaigns and educational outreach to bridge the knowledge gap.

Both desk research and field research continually highlight the intricate interplay between environmental and social challenges. Respondents consistently acknowledge the close links between local environmental issues and various social factors, such as poverty, urbanization, and demographic shifts. These studies repeatedly spotlight specific environmental concerns, including air and water quality, waste management, deforestation, and pollution. Recognizing the dynamic relationship between environmental and social challenges takes center stage in the development and effectiveness of citizen science programs.

The research underscores the pivotal role of adult education in promoting environmental engagement. While there is a growing recognition of the importance of adult environmental education, North Macedonia predominantly focuses on job-related skills, with relatively less emphasis on comprehensive environmental education. Respondents emphasize the need for environmental education as a lifelong learning process, starting from an early age and continuing throughout one’s lifetime.

In conclusion, to elevate citizen science and enhance environmental awareness in North Macedonia, several essential recommendations come to the forefront. Initiatives should prioritize raising awareness about citizen science, emphasizing its potential benefits, and guiding citizens on active participation. An integrated approach is crucial, given the intricate relationship between environmental and social challenges. This approach empowers North Macedonian adults to take an active role in addressing local environmental issues and acknowledges the complex dynamic between these intertwined challenges, ultimately enabling individuals to make a positive contribution to environmental preservation.