Citizen science is scientific research conducted by volunteer community members (ie amateur or nonprofessional scientists). Citizen scientists often partner with professional scientists to achieve common goals and allow them to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time consuming to accomplish through other means. They also allow professional scientists to have numerous people ‘on the ground’ to collect data when they cant be everywhere at once.
The ECOCEAN citizen science program allows any member of the community to be involved in collecting important identification data on whale sharks. Citizen scientists across the world can take a photo of the spot patterns on the skin of a whale shark and enter the photo into the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library(link from here to Photo-ID Library). ECOCEAN will then use this photo as a way to identify the whale shark, determine their movements and if they have been seen in the same area before.
Since 2000, ECOCEAN has been providing whale shark tourism operators in Ningaloo with ‘how to be a whale shark ‘citizen scientist’ brochures’ for distribution to eco-tourists on their boat guests (in excess of 15,000 tourists visit Ningaloo each year). As a result of this initiative thousands of photos of whale sharks have been submitted to the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library. Interestingly, 2/3 of the whale shark sightings are of whale sharks that have been seen at Ningaloo before.
Meet ‘Stumpy’ and his friends – some of the regular visitors to Ningaloo. Stumpy was first seen in 1995 and continues to return to Ningaloo on a regular basis. Click on the links below to take you to Wildbook and see what these whale sharks have been up to!
For information on the protection of whale sharks off the Ningaloo coast and in Australia, see the conservation page.
The ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library is available for people to access around the world, so any shark sighting can be reported into the Library as an encounter. We have actively set up partnerships for this citizen science program in Indonesia, Mexico, Mozambique, Seychelles, Maldives, Galapagos, Belize, Honduras and Philippines, with many other countries interested in being involved. The Library currently holds almost 40,000 photos and has received submissions from people who have photographed whale sharks in 46 different countries.
Our citizen science project provides huge potential to increase the interest in science and conservation amongst community members using the unique combination of a flagship species (whale sharks) and the latest technology (the on-line data collection system used within the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library). It also provides the opportunity and skills for community to be involved in the natural resource management of their local area. ECOCEAN believes that the combination of awareness raising and capacity building among our community and, in particular, youth is a vital part of our marine environment’s future.
’This project could not have been so successful without the support of our Citizen Scientists from all over the world’ – notes Brad Norman.
How to become an ECOCEAN Citizen Scientist
You too can assist with whale shark research and become a ‘citizen scientist’ – by submitting photos and sighting information. The information you submit will be used in mark-recapture studies to help with the global conservation of this threatened species.
Also see the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo identification UNEP MANUAL
Other Citizen Science projects from around Australia
www.frogwatch.org.au – A biodiversity portal from the Northern Territory that encourages community members to not only collect information on frogs, but reptiles and mammals as well. Frogwatch also coordinate community members to collect cane toads and remove them from their backyards.
www.riverguardians.com – The Dolphin Watch project is a partnership between the Swan River Trust’s River Guardians program and Murdoch and Curtin Universities and was instigated to learn more about the community of bottlenose dolphins residing in the Swan and Canning Rivers (Perth, WA).
www.musselwatchwa.com – MusselWatch is a website designed by Murdoch University (Perth, WA) researchers and community partners to assist in the collection of species distributional information as well as an educational tool to create awareness about South West WA’s only freshwater mussel (Westralunio carteri).
www.climatewatch.org.au – An initiative of the Earthwatch Institute this wesbite allows citizen scientists to choose their favourite animal to observe over time. The information you collect and enter online will then be used to assist scientists, policy makers and land managers to understand and take appropriate measures to deal with the impact of climate change.
www.freshwaterfishgroup-fishhealthunit.yolasite.com – Help the crew at Team Sawfish, Murdoch University (Perth, WA) by reporting any tagged sawfish you see in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions.
www.ccwa.org.au/programs/citizen-science – The Conservation Council of WA’s Citizen Science Program is designed to build capacity at the community level to fill gaps in government programs around ecological monitoring of the kind necessary to monitor the biological responses to climate change or long-term outcomes of biodiversity oriented natural resource management projects.