Aramco industrial trainees become citizen naturalists in biodiversity challenge
Using smartphones, trainees were asked to submit pictures of animals they encountered using a crowd-sourced mobile application.
To ease the mental strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and raise awareness of the enormous variety of wildlife in the Kingdom’s communities, company trainees attending the Mubarraz Industrial Training Center (ITC) in al-Hasa have taken part in a technology driven biodiversity challenge.
Using their smartphones, the ITC trainees were asked to submit pictures of animals they encountered using “iNaturalist,” a crowd-sourced mobile application and website that maps and shares millions of observations of the natural world.
From April 11 to May 17, the trainees explored their homes, communities, farms, neighborhood parks, and nearby natural areas to document as many species as they could. Their contributions added to a database of more than 60 million pictures of fauna and flora uploaded by users around the world.
Newly discovered neighbors
Some participants initially quipped that there were only feral dogs and cats outside their homes, however, they soon found that they had a diverse community of neighbors in the form of insects, lizards, small mammals, and birds. As Mohammed A. Al-Naas, an apprentice operator, said, “I learned a lot by participating in the challenge. For example, I learned how many creatures you can find around you when you really look for them.”
Many participants searched further afield for new species to capture on their smartphones, and observations came in from across the Kingdom. Fawaz Y. Bu Rasis, a craftsman apprentice, took a picture of a Hamadryas baboon sitting on a goat in the highlands of the southwest.
With the challenge period aligned with the spring migration in Saudi Arabia, several lucky participants were able to capture images of migratory birds passing through their neighborhoods. Challenge winner Hussain Y. Al-Jumah, an apprentice operator, photographed a European bee-eater.
Six types of ants, not two
Surprised to find a variety of creatures living nearby, second-place winner Abdulmajeed M. Al-Hamada, an apprentice technician, said, “I thought that there were only two kinds of ants in my house, but there are six different kinds of them in reality.”
“Going outside and walking slowly made me realize how beautiful the nature is that surrounds the area where I live,” Al-Hamada added, encouraging people to participate in a biodiversity challenge. “It will make you think more about the environment and living creatures, and show you the world from a different perspective.”
According to Al-Naas, people should participate in a biodiversity challenge because, “They will get the chance to discover new places and learn about creatures they might have never seen before.”
Hussain T. Al-Yami, an apprentice operator, also recommended participating in a biodiversity challenge. “It is a great way to spend your free time and it helps you learn about animals and where to find them. Whenever I got bored, I would take my camera and go to the park,” he said.
For Bu Rasis, “the competition between friends” was the best thing about the challenge.
Using nature to soothe stress
The main objective of the challenge was to promote physical and mental health during Ramadan and ’Id al-Fitr amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows that spending time outdoors, doing activities like hiking and birdwatching, can help manage stress and enhance overall mood. All challenge participants reported spending more time outdoors.