Take a Coastal Walkabout with Me: Coastal Walkabout in the USA

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Coastal Walkabout is an open access, dynamic, citizen science initiative which utilises smart phone technology and social media to engage and motivate local communities to gather scientific observations within the coastal, estuarine and near-shore environments. The approach seeks to integrate structured and unstructured survey data to leverage citizen, community, government and science engagement. The project is enabling data transfer amongst organisations regionally, nationally and internationally.

We (Murdoch University, Duke University, Marine Ventures Foundation and GAIA Resources) launched the Coastal Coastal Walkabout initiative 2013. Since then, we have come a long way: the development of the generic Coastal Walkabout app, several additional project specific apps, and more than 7000 marine wildlife sightings haven been contributed by citizen scientists all over the world.

Below, is a blog developed by Alicia Amerson overviewing her experiences using the Coastal Walkabout app during a recent research cruise in the North-West, USA.

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Blog developed by Alicia Amerson:

The famous Australian concept “walkabout” is possible at sea with the Coastal Walkabout. For one month aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shipReuben LaskerI recorded marine animals and other coastal wildlife with Coastal Walkabout (a citizen science data collection mobile application) as I sailed along the coastline of British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 1 From the flying bridge I look through the large binoculars on the flying bridge (top deck of the boat) to find whales and then record my sighting in Coastal Walkabout and a NOAA database.

Figure 1 From the flying bridge I look through the large binoculars on the flying bridge (top deck of the boat) to find whales and then record my sighting in Coastal Walkabout and a NOAA database.

The wide spectrum of technology available today provides innovative and new ways for us to take action in our world. In fact, smart phone technology connects people with the childhood dream of exploring the coastal environments like Jacque Cousteau. Coastal Walkabout Application (App) is away for the everyday beach goer or aquatic-seeking tourists to record marine animal sightings and then contribute the scientific observation while using a personal smart phone. As a marine biologist my curiosity of collecting data on a smart phone was intriguing, so I decided to try it out. As a marine mammal observer and volunteer on the NOAA Collaborative Large Whale Survey (CLaWS) I used the Coastal Walkabout App to record sightings of marine animals from Ketchikan, Alaska to Port Angeles, Washington aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker. A total of 400 survey miles were traveled during Leg 4. The cruise followed the inner channel of Queen Charlotte Straight staying close to mainland of British Colombia and southward along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The NOAA cruise goal was to identify the primary foraging areas used by Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus). NOTE: This is a review of the Coastal Walkabout App from a user perspective, not analysis or discussion of data collected under permit by the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Figure 2 Gray whale comes up for breath while foraging in the kelp forest under the water.

Figure 2 Gray whale comes up for breath while foraging in the kelp forest under the water.

Various species of cetaceans were identified during the cruise including gray, humpback, and fin whales; pacific white sided dolphins; killer whales; Dall’s and harbor porpoise. Populations of Steller sea lions and California sea lions were found on the rocky points of the jagged coastline. Sea otters were scattered throughout the coastal waters. A large variety of bird species were identified including surf scoters, gulls, and bald eagles. The most abnormal sighting was when a brown booby (tropical bird) landed on the bow of the boat off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Along the entire journey I saw hundreds (maybe thousands) of large moon jellyfish. The common murre father and chick pairs called for each other if they were separated while flying around the boat. Black bears were spotted on the northern shore of Vancouver Island. One sighting was a mother bear and her two cubs on the beach. One morning a pack of wolves was spotted from the flying bridge. Over 70 sightings were recorded in the Coastal Walkabout App.

Figure 3 Black bear foraging for small crabs under a large rock. Photo by Alicia Amerson

Figure 3 Black bear foraging for small crabs under a large rock. Photo by Alicia Amerson

The Coastal Walkabout App was easy to find and download to my iPhone 6. There are four easy choices to pick from on the home screen. I clicked on record sightings and a variety of animal categories appear. For example when I spotted a whale I clicked on marine mammals and would then record the whale type, number, behavior, and any other relevant data to the sighting. Since I was on a ship instead of land I indicated in the notes section where it was located in reference to the boat. Currently the App is set up for Australian coastal animals so I selected other species if the species I observed was not listed. The other species option allowed me to type in the species name and record the GPS for the sample area. The App is easy to use and with a few clicks a sighting is complete. The next step is to upload the data which requires internet which I was able to do most days while at sea.

 

Figure 4 On days when gray whales were spotted a small boat was launched from the side of Reuben Lasker. With the small boat we followed the whales to collect identification photos and biopsy samples of the whales. Photo by Alicia Amerson

Figure 4 On days when gray whales were spotted a small boat was launched from the side of Reuben Lasker. With the small boat we followed the whales to collect identification photos and biopsy samples of the whales. Photo by Alicia Amerson

Citizen science data collection Apps are used to gather sighting data which act as the first steps to identify animals using coastal habitats. Further comprehensive environmental studies are required to collect specific data which target details of a species life such as essential habitats, behavior, and population abundance. Published scientific studies analyze the data in ways which may provide information to assist marine spatial planning or environmental based management decision-making. My journey along the Canadian coastline has been incredible. By documenting each animal observed I have shared my walkabout while contributing to science.

Figure 5 Map of sightings collected in the Coastal Walkabout App. Data collected along the coast of Alaska and British Columbia by Alicia.

Figure 5 Map of sightings collected in the Coastal Walkabout App. Data collected along the coast of Alaska and British Columbia by Alicia.

As an active participant in protecting our oceans I want to do my part (#doyourpart). And as a scientist collaborating with local communities it is important to find new ways to work together. Data collection Apps like Coastal Walkabout demonstrate how easy it is for citizens to quickly get involved with their coastlines by observing different animals and then record their sightings. Variability in climate patterns indicates abnormalities in biodiversity now may become the new normal, but at a rate we do not quite understand. By identifying the animals using local coastlines we directly become witness to the changes within our communities. Working together we will be able to make the best decisions for our future and for the future of coastal biodiversity and habitats.

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AAlicia Amerson recently graduated from Scripps Institution of Oceanography with a Master’s degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. Her interest in nature-based tourism impacts to cetaceans led her to study the gray whale migration from Vancouver Island, Canada along the U.S. coastline into the reproductive lagoons in Baja de California, Mexico to identify the best practices of whale-watching. She also hosts dog-friendly environmental clean-ups events to prevent further pollution of our world’s oceans.

 


 

Contact Alicia: alicia5378@gmail.com

Contact Coastal Walkabout: coastalwalkaboutOZ@gmail.com

For more information: Coastal Walkabout

Click here to Download Coastal Walkabout

Like Us on Facebook: Coastal Walkabout

Follow the CLaWS cruise on Facebook: NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

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