Perth to Exmouth – Engaging with citizens about grassroots marine science

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The first part of our epic journey has been accomplished. We’ve made it to Exmouth without a hitch, and spent time on both sea and land testing out how our developing citizen science project will be rolled out, both technologically and socially. Dave and I have been concentrating on the science-side of the trip, while Tom and Andy have been working hard on documenting the feel and vibe of the locals in the area.

 Some highlights:

  •  We spent a morning at the Whale Shark festival in Exmouth and spoke at length with Lynne Irvine from the WA Whale Research Center about the state of humpback whale research in the local area and how technologically enhanced citizen science projects could be rolled out. An afternoon helo reconnaissance of the North Cape Region offered up sightings of manta rays, whale sharks, bottlenose dolphins, green turtles and dugongs packed within the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. These sightings will add to the growing database of information about the local ecosystem, hopefully augmented with future citizen science contributions.
  •  We journeyed south to Coral Bay to meet with manta ray expert Frazer McGregor and experience first hand the unparalleled ecotourism experiences to be had within the Ningaloo Reef system there. This was a golden opportunity to link with local researchers and resource stakeholders and assess how smartphone-based citizen science could contribute to local knowledge.
  •  After Coral Bay (and counting 50 plus kangeroos on the way back last night), we spent the day on a small boat survying coastal waters of the North Cape region for marine wildlife. Considering the wind, we accomplished a lot. We had sightings of four dugongs, two groups of bottlenose dolphins and slalomed between green turtles snacking on jellies in the near surface waters of the North Cape. On top of that, we did the first tests of our hydrophone system, successfully recording ocean sounds with an iPhone and transmitting them automatically to the Soundcloud social media site over a rock solid Telestra 3G signal.

Everyone we’ve met has been keen to contribute sightings and other knowledge to this project. This generosity is overwhelming, and we realize now that we’re behind in preparing a straightforward way for people to contribute. We are learning a lot. Our sightings and experiences are intermittently being added to our mapping system, more on that soon.

Tomorrow we head for Broome, via Port Hedland. New species, situations and sights await. Stay tuned as we further engage with the people of WA and further develop our network of citizen scientists and mapping protocols.

 

Lars Bejder PhD
Lars Bejder PhD
Professor Lars Bejder PhD is the Research Leader of the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit.
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