NFT (nonfungible token) of an observation

i don’t have an actual observation that i want to monetize, but just out of curiosity, i wonder if it would cause any problems if someone were to sell an NFT of one of their observations?

Doubtful, but why would they do that when they could just sell the image?

sometimes it’s not the image itself that’s valuable. sometimes it’s the whole package. for example, the “Gerald” observation’s photo probably isn’t worth much, but the observation might fetch a few bucks. or maybe the first post ever on iNaturalist might be worth something…

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I don’t really see why someone would buy an NFT when the observation is free to view.

Edit: Also, if the point is to be able to use the observation in a side project, there is no issue, since the only thing copyrighted is the image, not the identifications or observation fields.


dont those things have an ungodly massive carbon footprint?


Well, for most NFT purchases, it seems to be more a matter of prestige or investment than actual use of the “item”. Presumably, to effectively have an NFT for an iNat observation, it would need to not have previously had a CC license, since even issuing a new license, people could still use the older one from it’s time as CC, which would presumably make it less prestigious and/or investment-worthy.

On a side note, I think there’d be a certain irony in issuing NFTs for iNat observations given their exorbitant “costs” in ecological terms:


it’s an important topic, but i think there can still be a proper use case for NFTs even after considering carbon footprint, just like it may take an airplane ride or long car trip or sea voyage to get a good photo / observation of a certain animal, but it may be worth it for conservation purposes.

yes, i’m sort of thinking bragging rights + helping to keep the observer observing would be the most important thing in most potential cases of NFTs of observations. i would liken it to buying a brick on a donor walkway or funding a named scholarship fund that pay for the work of a particular researcher.

just for example, suppose someone posted the the first-ever photographic evidence of a rare X on iNaturalist, but their equipment is not great. if you wanted more evidence of organism X, i suppose you could pay another person with better equipment to go there and try to find the organism. alternatively, you could buy an NFT on that original observation, which could effectively pay that original observer enough to get new equipment and also take time away from usual day-to-day concerns for a while to try to get another observation of X. (and at the same time, you’d get bragging rights as the owner / after-the-fact-patron of the original observation.)

i guess where my original question was headed though is whether monetizing observations like this would violate iNaturalist terms of service or potentially cause other problems.

Hmmmm, I’m not sure if it would violate terms of service or not. I would guess technically not as long as the observation was all rights reserved? But there might be some downsides if, say, the purchaser of the NFT decided that they wanted to remove the observation from iNat.

More broadly, I just generally think that there would be better ways to do this. Instead of buying an NFT in that scenario, one could just contact the user and Venmo them the money to go find another observation (or whatever other app you wanted to use). Or donate to an existing charity in the region, etc. All would be directed transfers of money without the carbon cost, though I guess they don’t have the built in prestige value.

There’s been a lot of talk about offsets for NFTs (which have a carbon footprint of driving about 500 miles in a car according to the qz article above) but there are serious issues with this (as for many carbon offsets):

The basic argument is that offsets don’t address the underlying issue of energy use for NFTs when, if you want to come up with a new solution to a problem, you can creatively engineer that solution.

For instance, in the scenario @pisum described of sponsoring an iNatter to take more observations (which I think is a cool idea), why not consider something like Patreon? This could sponsor the person over time to make cool observations in under-observed areas and provide them some monetary resources to do it (for travel, lodging, supplies, bandwidth, whatever). The patron would still get some prestige from being a supporter, etc. Just a random idea, I’m sure there are better!


just to clarify, buying an NFT can but doesn’t necessarily convey copyright, royalties, or anything other than ownership of the NFT. the underlying asset often can change and may be used by the creator and others as they would have prior to the sale of the NFT. however, the original seller of the NFT should have the commercial rights to the assets covered by the NFT. it’s a strange market for sure, but markets are fundamentally a little strange if you really try to dissect any of them.

something like Patreon has a carbon footprint, too. both have their place, but NFTs fill a slightly different niche than something like Patreon in this kind of use case. since NFT sales usually occur in some sort of cryptocurrency like Ethereum, you can theoretically sell from and to any country in the world. sure, the seller and buyer will probably need to convert from/to a fiat currency, but each side gets to choose their preferred intermediary and currency for conversion. also, an NFT is potentially re-sellable. so if you’re not necessarily going to get a tax writeoff for, say, gifting to an in-country non-profit organization, you can at least have the value of the option to resell the NFT.

I think this kind of feature might encourage users to stress very rare lifeforms. They would try to get observations that bring good money and, as I know people, most couldn’t care less for the beings safety if money is involved. I can see people mass hiking through important breeding places etc. to get the best shot of some rare hatchlings, only to sell them to the highest bidder. The stress that would cause the animals would probably be immense.

So I think being able to sell good observations would open doors that might better stay closed.


It is not so much about the picture, or its content. Rather not on iNat.

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welcome to the forum. i think this is a good point raised, though i’m not sure this door can be closed, if it doesn’t violate any terms of service. (i’m not sure if it would or it wouldn’t.) unless iNaturalist themselves get into the NFT business (which i think would be highly unlikely), the transactions would occur outside of the control of iNaturalist.

i’m not sure if monetizing observations in itself will necessarily lead to only bad things. i think you could just as easily argue the other side of the case where if you could monetize observations of endangered species, then maybe that will actually encourage people to take actions to conserve the species – sort of how ecotourism can incentivize folks to preserve land and fend off poachers.

but how money currently flows and how NFTs could change that is definitely one of the things that i was thinking could be potentially problematic. in my earlier example, i was saying that maybe money could effectively flow directly to individuals to support their independent work. this is somewhat in contrast with i think how a lot of money currently goes to organizations, who then hire people to do work on their behalf. so NFTs could provide some level of disintermediation, which could eventually hurt organizations like Nat Geo and Cal Academy (who sponsor the work of iNaturalist).

or maybe folks still might prefer to support organizations in the future, since the tax breaks in exchange for PR and curation / administration are worth more than the value of an option to resell or a direct connection to a person doing the work? or maybe an organization like a Nat Geo might become an ideal buyer of NFTs of observations to support independent folks doing good work around the world?