Conservation Apps


“Technology is both friend and enemy” to conservation and the appreciation of nature (Beck & Dustin, 2016, p. 22).  Nature and conservation-themed smartphone applications are a relatively new technology that conservationists should become friendlier with. 


Smartphone applications (or ‘apps’) are programs found on phones or tablets that are task-focused, simple to install, and generally inexpensive (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). Though we usually hear about apps such as Angry Birds (which now has its own movie) and Snapchat, I wanted to learn more about nature and conservation-themed applications.  Many people, including scientists and the general public, seem apprehensive about combining nature with technology, as some point out that being in nature should be an immersive experience, uninterrupted by gadgets (Beck & Dustin, 2015). However, Jepson and Ladle (2015) argue that smartphone applications

         have the potential to transform how humans interact with nature, cause a step change in the quantity and              resolution of biodiversity data, democratize access to environmental knowledge, and reinvigorate ways of                enjoying nature. (p. 827)

There are many types of nature-focused smartphone applications. Jepson and Ladle (2015) found that there are six primary categories of nature apps, including phone personalization, games, nature recreation, on-site help, reference and news, and citizen science (p. 827).

With the ubiquity of smartphones comes the opportunity to engage more people with nature than ever before. But are we seizing that opportunity? When I searched for nature-themed apps to review for this project (more on that below), I was surprised at how difficult it was to find them! Many apps that came up when I searched for “nature” or “conservation” were either not related to these subjects at all or were games without any truly nature-centric elements. Jepson and Ladle (2015) also discovered how few smartphone apps focus on the environment.  They found that out of the over 1 million apps available in the Google Play Store, only about 6,300 of them were nature-related (Jepson & Ladle, 2015).  Of those 6,300 applications, only 33 were created for the purpose of citizen science (Jepson & Ladle, 2015).  So while there is great potential for engaging, nature and conservation-focused smartphone apps, conservationists need to work with those in technological fields to create more of these applications (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). If conservation efforts are to remain relevant and exciting, it is crucial for conservationists to get involved with new technology, like smartphone applications, in innovative ways (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). Ideally, we will someday be able to discuss any aspect of conservation and know that “there’s an app for that”. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. 


In the following blog posts on this topic of nature and conservation-themed smartphone applications, I will be covering the pros and cons of this technology, as well as providing my reviews of several nature apps that I have recently tried. Stay tuned!



Beck, L., & Dustin, D. (2016). Technology on the Trails. Legacy (National Association For Interpretation), 27(6), 20-22.


Jepson, P., & Ladle, R. J. (2015). Nature apps: Waiting for the revolution. Ambio, 44(8), 827-832. doi:10.1007/s13280-         015-0712-2

February 24, 2017

All technology has positives and negatives, from the typewriter to the self-driving car, and conservation-themed smartphone apps are no exception.  Of course, smartphone applications encompass the drawbacks of smartphone usage in general.  For example, Coyne (2014) voiced the health concerns that come with smartphone usage, such as stress induction and the backlighting of the screen impeding melatonin’s production.  Electronic...

February 24, 2017

I will be testing several nature and conservation-themed smartphone applications and reviewing them to give readers a better sense of the nature apps that are available. 

I have an iPhone and so I will be reviewing apps that are downloadable for free on the App Store.  I chose free apps because those are the most accessible to the most people and accessibility is one of the many advantages of nature-focused smartphone apps....

February 22, 2017

App: Clean Swell

Rating:  15/15

Background: This citizen science smartphone app encourages users to clean up beaches in their area and track when and what they picked up (Clean Swell, 2016). The app not only keeps track of all of the user’s beach clean ups but it uploads this data to the Ocean Conservancy’s data pool that records what app users are cleaning up all over the world (Clean Swell, 2016).  This data can provide global...

February 21, 2017

App: Save the Earth

Rating:  7/15

Background: Save the Earth is a gaming app that asks the user to sort trash items into different bins, such as plastic, paper, metal, organic, glass, or hazard (Save the Earth, 2012).  The goal is to pick the correct bin for whichever item is falling. If the user picks too many incorrect bins, the pollution levels will get too high and the user loses (Save the Earth, 2012). 

My experience: I...

February 20, 2017

App: Merlin Bird ID

Rating: 15/15

Background: Merlin Bird ID is an app that acts as a bird identification tool (Cornell University, 2017). This smartphone application allows user to identify birds that they see, based on a few questions (Cornell University, 2017).  Users have access to 650 bird species in Canada and the United States (Cornell University, 2017). This app has recently added a photo function but I didn't try that a...

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