Category: Blogs

Reflections on EU citsci CoP talks

By John Pring, Chair ACSA-ACT

I have been participating in discussions with some of the European WeObserve citizen science communities of practice for some time and was asked to provide an update on the Australian bushfires that had occured over the recent fire season and the involvement of ACSA and Australian citizen scientists in the recovery process.  Here is a summary of that presentation and discussion.

Morton National Park NSW February 2020

The fires in Australia had been something that they had watched in horror but did not truly realise the size. The official losses (3500 homes, 5850 Outbuildings and the tragic loss of 34 lives) had meaning but indicating to people living in the Netherlands that the fires had burnt an area approaching 2.5 x the combined size of Belgium and the Netherlands put it in a context that that really brought it home.

The length of time that the fires had burnt was also something that had not completely dawned on my European audience.

Having set the scene we discussed the setting up of a bushfire working group in mid January and the move to provide support for those citizen scientists wanting to get involved in the recovery process once it was possible.  The work of this group and others saw the establishment of a microsite by SciStarter and the setting up of a bushfire specific view of the ACSA/ALA Project Finder, although the latter was delayed.

There followed a discussion around things that had delayed or impacted the citizen science effort.  This discussion included the impact of the arrival of Coronavirus and the implementation of social distancing measures and travel restrictions, the closure of National Parks and reserves due to the risk of falling trees and branches (noting that many are still closed at the time of writing).

The group appreciated the presentation and noted the apparent relatively low level of funding support for citizen science.

NRFC Conference, Hobart

This week the National Recreational Fishing Conference was held in Hobart. The theme was “Our Fishing, Our Research, Our Recreational Future” with talks on how citizen science projects by recreational fishers are helping inform and improve both fresh and saltwater fisheries management. Projects featured included artificial reef building and monitoring by  OzFish Unlimited as well as WA based Recfishwest’s Reef Vision, Ocean sunfish mapping.

OZFish is a particularly interesting case because it is an example of a volunteer-based organisation of recreational fishers focused on protecting and, importantly, restoring fish habitat that is also commercially sponsored, thus giving them a lot more funding, and thus scope, to actively improve the environment.

For more information check out the following sites:

  • ozfish.org.au
  • recfishwest.org.au/our-services/research/reef-vision-artificial-reef-monitoring
  • oceansunfish.org

Gold Coast BioBlitz

The Gold Coast is all about enjoying our natural areas and environment and spending heaps of time on the beach. However, the wild array of wildlife often seems to be overlooked whilst doing so. Local community organisation, the Gold Coast Catchment Association hosted the Gold Coast Bioblitz 2019 together with SEQ NRM Healthy Land and Water. The 24 hour event included a full weekend of flora and fauna surveys conducted by 230 community members under the expert guidance of 50 scientist and survey assistants.

The aim for the BioBlitz was to discover the hidden creatures of the Gold Coast hinterland as well as to engage the local community through education and hands-on experience, in this case in the beautiful Austinville Valley. These intensive biological surveys done over the 24 hour period record numerous endangered, near threatened and vulnerable species as well as the usual locals and would add to previous conducted assessments. Austinville Valley stands for partnerships through ecological restoration and regeneration and has seen significant changes over the last few years through the help of Austinville Landcare, local and state government efforts. All these efforts, to make this endangered rainforest a nature refuge for our native wildlife.

The Gold Coast Bioblitz included environmental consultants, scientists, ecologists, volunteers and members of the public. The event was opened by the local Kombumerri people (Ngarang-Wal) with a Welcome to Country at our basecamp, Mt Nimmel Lodge. The lodge provided the opportunity to mingle and was our data entry hub. Community members were able to grab a nice hot and cold drink upon return, to then sit down with their survey leaders to help ID specimens and samples. The event was driven by volunteers and with enormous help of the City of Gold Coast.

A total of 37 surveys were conducted over 3 session times which included spotlighting, platypus surveys, frog surveys, waterbug studies, flora studies, insects surveys and heaps more! Overall 683 species were found, of which 3 were undescribed, 2 new to Queensland. There were also 115 listings under the State, EPBC and City Wide Significant acts recorded! Significant species found during the BioBlitz included Koala’s, Platypus, Long leaved Tuckeroo, an undescribed Smilax species, the Critically endangered Euastacus maidae, Spiny Gardenia and many more! This results in 1445 new records for the state and city database.

Once again we would like to thank all our partners and sponsors, participants, crew and everyone involved in the BioBlitz! It was truly a pleasure so have so many like minded people come together to find our hidden creatures! See you next your in Springbrook!

Q&A with ACSA’s Patron…Dr Geoff Garrett AO

One of our Member’s recently mentioned that they’d like to know a little bit more about ACSA’s Patron Dr Geoff Garrett AO, and the work he is doing behind the scenes for ACSA. What follows here is an amusing, honest and engaging account of the years since citizen science first crossed Geoff’s radar (which was not as early as you might have expected for a Chief Scientist!) But perhaps that is just testament to the times that were. Not anymore! Read on to find out a little more about our Patron.

Geoff and his avid birdwatcher wife, Janet

ACSA: How did you get interested in Citizen Science? And why?

Geoff Garrett: To my considerable embarrassment, during my time as CSIRO’s Chief Executive and, thereafter, as Queensland’s Chief Scientist, citizen science hadn’t really crossed my radar.

I was probably not alone in this as, for example, up to that point I can’t recall any discussion on the topic with the other States’ Chief Scientists, who regularly got together under the leadership of Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.

But then, late in 2016, towards the end of our time in Queensland, I got an interesting (and some might say pushy!) letter from a devoted citizen science evangelist, Libby Hepburn.

She wanted to meet. I didn’t at that stage know her from the proverbial bar of soap so (as one does, or did) I politely ducked her kind invitation saying I was finishing off, then going to be overseas for the first half of 2017 but “please feel free to contact me again when I’m back in Canberra”…. thinking (of course) that it would go away. It didn’t.

Early in July 2017 Libby got in touch again, too passionate on the topic for me to put off meeting with her. And at our first meeting the scales started falling from my eyes, around the scope, potential and importance of better involving – meaningfully – the broader community, young and old, in science, and scientific research.

My emerging enthusiasm was further ignited a couple of weeks later when Libby suggested I get in touch with Canberra-based Andrew Robinson of Questagame.

I had mentioned to Andrew our visiting UK brother-in-law, Ron Johns (for a decade Britain’s top ‘twitcher’), so birding was a prime topic. We had an awesome meeting and compelling roadshow through Questagame‘s objectives and activities.

Also around that time I had just joined the Board of the brilliant National Youth Science Forum, so enthusing young kids around science was also pretty much top of mind.

I was hooked.

And the rest just unfolded. ACSA was emerging as the organising vehicle here in Australia and I had some intriguing conversations with Erin Roger as Chairperson, especially around science leadership, politics, engaging key decision-makers and funding – stuff I’ve spent, happily(?), quite a lot of my career getting to grips with. I offered to help.

ACSA: So how, as Patron, have you been involved?

GG: First off, I was – and am – honoured, and indeed flattered, to have been invited by Erin and the Committee to take up this role.

Now – relationships are key…..

I still had some useful connections into, for example, the Office of the Commonwealth Chief Scientist, and we persuaded Alan to do a keynote address – which was great! – at ACSA’s February 2018 conference; into Department decision-makers around extending core funding; to my ‘old’ colleagues back in Queensland and the then Acting Chief Scientist, Dr Christine Williams and my former boss, the excellent Minister Leeanne Enoch. These ladies both got as excited as I was and devoted time and resources to getting Citizen Science well and truly launched in Queensland through a formal Strategy piece and $500+k initial grant funding for Citizen Science projects. And so on.

And all a great pleasure to be able to assist.

ACSA: So why do you think Citizen Science is important?

Geoff sharing a science story with one of his granddaughters, Evie

GG: For any ACSA Newsletter reader looking for a motivational briefing on this question – for pals, colleagues, family or bosses – if you haven’t yet come across it, this link might be helpful…

https://govoluntouring.com/what-is-citizen-science-why-is-it-important/

From my side, in particular, there are a couple of key drivers here…

Firstly, on capacity…. involving enthusiastic lay people in research studies can drastically expand for researchers the volume and spread of valuable data collection. My previously-noted brother-in-law and engaging the birdwatching community at large is a great example.

Secondly, debunking elitism and mystique…. which sometimes, unfortunately, scientists like to hide behind: “this is all very hard, and complicated, and you need to be very clever (like me) with decades of training behind you (also like me), to be able to contribute.”

Citizen science projects open up how science actually works, and exposing scientists to the broader community as real people, nice people, helpful people doing important work for the benefit of all of us, is very beneficial.

Thirdly, promoting collaboration… which we are still struggling with here in Australia, sadly.

I’m fond of quoting that “all business is people business” and that “communication excellence is the baton of leadership” (and that’s maybe twice as much listening as talking – the two ears/one mouth story!) Key skills essential for the broader ‘professional’ scientific corps, to hone and improve. Learning through doing.

ACSA: And finally, what would be your vision for citizen science in Australia in say 3 to 5 years time?

GG:

  1.  Track record. A burgeoning engagement of citizens in science projects – and results – of importance to communities, meaningfully influencing policy at local, State and Federal level.
  2. No Heads of Science Agencies or Chief Scientists (mea culpa again!) – nor indeed any Ministers of Science – that don’t have citizen science on their priority action list. With funding.
  3. The secret of success. Word-of-mouth spreading like wildfire with both professional scientists and community groups.

 

Thank you Geoff!

Member Spotlight: Monique Van Sluys

Name: Monique Van Sluys

Role: Wildlife Conservation Officer

Organisation: Taronga Conservation Society Australia

How long have you been a member of ACSA?: Since November 2017

Why did you join ACSA?: I have been involved with ACSA since the early discussions to create a citizen science network back in 2013-14. To join ACSA as a founding member was an easy and natural decision. I believe that the wide community should be involved with science for a better understanding of what it takes to create knowledge.

What do you love about citizen science?: I do appreciate the opportunities citizen science creates for the wider community to engage with different aspects of science, to foster public participation and curiosity regarding the scientific process. It is inspiring for individuals to make a difference and contribute to the broader science community through sharing knowledge and collaborating data.

What is the most awesome citizen science project you have been involved in and why?: I haven’t been extensively involved with citizen science projects. The first project I had been involved with was to identify galaxies for a NASA project – very cool! They all looked a blur to me at the start!

Member Spotlight: Scott Bell

A bit about me: I’m Scott Bell, a fifth generation Tasmanian, married, and retired from General Practice at the end of 2006. I was fortunate to be able to purchase 640 acres of varied bushland, close to the coast in North Eastern Tasmania, in 2007. I’ve protected it with a covenant, apart from 2%, which is set aside for a building envelope.

Scott with the lighthouse at Tasman Island, where he does voluntary work with the “Friends of Tasman Island”

Role: Retiree, home builder, citizen scientist, volunteer, community member

How long have you been an ACSA member?: I just joined last month

Why did you join ACSA?: To share ideas with other citizen scientists, to help me achieve my citizen science project goals

How have you used citizen science on your property?: Initially, I invited some local Wildlife Carers to use the site for the release of rehabilitated animals. An early approach to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Project resulted in the construction of a 50 acre biosecure enclosure, for breeding disease free devils. And a number of other groups are regularly involved in activities on the site – Field Naturalists, other Conservation Landowners, a local school group, and occasionally a Threatened Species group. And of course, family and friends participate.

What is the most awesome citizen science project you have been involved in and why? In 2018, I was involved in a state wide citizen science project, undertaking a census of wedge tailed eagles. I’d previously been monitoring fauna, in a slap dash fashion, periodically trapping, or trail camera photographing. I’ve since tried to be more diligent, recording dates and sites where trappings occur. There is still a way to go, in terms of developing more rigorous systems. Perhaps by sharing ideas with other citizen scientists, I’ll be able to achieve this goal. And also finishing the house building project will free up some extra time……

 

If you would like to share your citizen science story, or would to nominate a fellow ACSA member to be featured in our monthly member spotlight, please let us know!

How Cooloola Coastcare hatched Cooloola TurtleCare with a seed grant from the Australian Citizen Science Association

By Lindy Orwin, Cooloola Coastcare

Worldwide, marine turtles are at risk. But on the Cooloola Coast in the Gympie region of Queensland, where several endangered, vulnerable and threatened species (including the green, loggerhead, hawksbill and flatback turtles) live, there are some extra challenges. This is an area of dynamic sand movement and many 4WD tourist vehicles use the beach daily, especially during school holidays, because the beach is a gazetted ‘road’. Young hatchlings whose nests survive the king tides and storm surge of the crazy Queensland storms, have to run the gauntlet to survive.

The Cooloola Coast turtle breeding beaches urgently need monitoring and the community needs education about marine turtle behaviour if the turtles trying to nest in this area are to be successful. These beaches and those to the south are vitally important because sand temperature determines the gender of the hatchlings. Only beaches south of Bundeberg are cool enough to result in male turtles, to balance the feminisation of turtles north of this location.

In 2017, one nest was laid right next to the Lifesaver’s Tower on the main swimming beach. It was sadly lost during the first night to the ravages of a large high tide. Luckily for Cooloola turtles, a very experienced turtle carer with extensive experience around the world in turtle rescues, relocating turtle nests and tagging turtles, Joan Burnett, moved into our area. Now her work has been fast tracked thanks to an ACSA Seed Grant!

(Left) Joan Burnett, Turtle Citizen Scientist and (Right) Treasurer and Turtle Volunteer, Nancy Haire, prepare materials for turtle education events.

Cooloola Coastcare has been able to rally a merry band of volunteers together and start an education program for the community. In the last few weeks, members of the public have reported stranded and sick turtles and our team has been able to help out in the rescues and collect data about several turtles. With the help of the ACSA Seed Grant, the TurtleCare Program is well underway and plans are being ‘hatched’ for more Cooloola volunteers to be trained at the Mon Repos Turtle Research Centre in the 2019-20 turtle season. We’re changing the survival rate of marine turtles one turtle at a time. In July and August, we’ve been involved in rescuing a turtle from a crab pot, assisting a turtle found floating on the surface and collecting data about deceased turtles.

Turtle education will also be a feature of the upcoming National Science Week STEAMzone Festival in Gympie with Joan’s newest educational resource…a realistic model of a hatching turtle nest complete with the moonrise over the sea.

Our newest educational resource…a realistic model of a hatching turtle nest complete with the moonrise over the sea

While there are many tourist photos of marine turtles in the Cooloola Coast area taken by campers, kayakers, fishermen and divers, there is little scientific data about the numbers of marine turtles trying to lay their eggs on Rainbow Beach.  Data collected about turtles stranded and rescued by the Citizen Scientists is adding to the knowledge base.

A partnership has been established with the Sunshine Coast TurtleCarers for shared training and collaboration. Cooloola TurtleCare will promote broad and meaningful participation in citizen science by our TurtleCare volunteers, local residents and tourist visitors.

Dr Lindy Orwin, Coordinator, Cooloola Coastcare and turtle volunteer, Murray, look for any remaining eggs in a nest site exposed during Cyclone Oma

Member Spotlight: Tess Hayes

Name: Tess Hayes

Role: Masters student; Vice Chair – ACSA Victoria; formally Citizen Science Officer, EPA Victoria Citizen Science Program

How long have you been an ACSA member?: Since December 2017

Why did you join ACSA?: I have always been extremely grateful for the community that exists among citizen science practitioners. There is a willingness to collaborate, to share ideas and come together with a solution focus to unpack common challenges that confront citizen science projects. I joined ACSA in late 2017 in order to attend the upcoming conference. After being involved for a while in an informal citizen science group in Victoria, it seemed a logical next step in widening my citizen science circle.

What do you love about citizen science?: The thing I love most about citizen science projects are the connections you can make and the strength and relevance able to be achieved through citizen science partnerships. I’m most interested in projects where knowledge partnerships are created. Working in the role of citizen science practitioner, you either broker, transfer or communicate knowledge between science/scientists and citizens. It’s changing the way we do science and I think that’s exciting and beneficial for the future of science.

What is the most awesome citizen science project you have been involved in and why? The best citizen science project I have been involved in was during my role at EPA Victoria. I led a water quality-monitoring project; Caring for Waterhole Creek. The project fostered a partnership between the community, local catchment management authority and EPA. These partners where brought together by a common interest in ensuring the health and protection of Waterhole Creek waterway. The project involved water monitoring by both citizens and EPA for different parameters, combining both data sets enabled understanding of water quality to ensure ecosystem function was maintained and contributed to the atheistic of the area. The project was a real meeting in the middle, where both citizens and scientists learnt from each other, shared their different and common knowledge and experiences to make a fit-for-purpose project.

Tess conducting water quality testing for the Caring for Waterhole Creek project

If you would like to share your citizen science story, or would to nominate a fellow ACSA member to be featured in our monthly member spotlight, please let us know!

Engaging and Retaining those elusive volunteers…

By Jodi Salmond, Reef Check Australia

Volunteer engagement and retention have long been an issue for the not for profit sector.  Organisations reliant on unpaid workers have substantial investments in time, training, and financial input, as well as an ongoing mentoring/upskilling programs to ensure volunteers feel both valued and supported, in addition to having the right skills to conduct the tasks required of them.  Despite this, some volunteers still cancel last minute, or cease to show up at all- leaving organisers stretched, frustrated, and unable to meet funding milestones.

We all invest a lot in all our volunteers.  I believe that overall, we are great at supporting them; we train them, we guide them, we answer their questions, we thank them for, validate their efforts and make sure everyone feels comfortable in their sparkly new roles.  And yet the turnover rate is still high.  Personally (and professionally) I continue to be interested in how we can all find and recruit dedicated, accountable, reliable volunteers for the long game.

Following my successful application for an ACSA Seed Grant, I chose to look at several different life coaching programs and books to help me gain a better understanding as to how I might better manage my own thoughts, feelings and expectations around volunteerism, how to create accountability to ourselves and each other, how to ensure less burnout in an industry that is known for it, and how to create engaged, energised long term volunteers.

I signed up for several different courses, and admittedly, I didn’t complete them all.  Some required too much time, some just didn’t suit my learning style, and for some, the expectation of what needed to be achieved daily was not realistic for someone working (almost) full time.  I did however find a few programs that really stood out for me, giving me small pieces of gold that I have taken on board not only for myself, but that I have since passed along to my volunteers through different training programs over the past 9 months.  I have found these to be truly helpful for both myself and my volunteer engagement, and would recommend everyone give them a go! The biggest nuggets of gold I have learnt and want to share include:

  • According to recent research, a habit takes 66 days (not 21 as many people believe) to create.  This really pushes people to genuinely create habits.  The first 50 days were hard.  I personally found that I really enjoy the routine I have created for myself in getting ready for the day.
  • When required to do something that is not for yourself, it is easy to push it aside.  Volunteers have to feel ownership over a task to see it through.  Ensure this ownership is facilitated!
  • Do a personality profile on yourself, and learn to recognise the characteristics of your volunteers.  Understanding each other’s needs, learning, and communication styles etc INSTANTLY increases understanding for both parties, and creates an open space of compassion and empathy.
  • When the number of tasks is too high, or the size (perceived or real) of the task is too large, many peoples default is to feel overwhelmed and thus retreat.  It is vitally important to remember this one thing: ‘How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time’.  We need to change our default state to one of encompassing challenges rather than hiding from them.
  • The greatest thing we can do as leaders is to create more leaders; then let them fail forward.  Failure is key to success, so celebrate them!  Only through failing can you identify what doesn’t work.  If you are successful at everything you ever do, you are not pushing hard enough.
  • Self Care in paramount.  We all know this, yet it’s the first thing that disappears when time is at a premium.  Start your day focussed on YOU.  Take time to plan your day, meditate, journal and exercise.  THEN you can start the day feeling your absolute best because you spent time on you, your mindset and yourself.

I learnt a lot about myself during my search.  This has guided me on a path of continual self-development that I thoroughly believe has made me a better trainer, better leader and better overall human.  My volunteers seem active, engaged and eager to join in the wide array of activities we are a part of.  They understand there are boundaries to our relationship, and I no longer work all hours of every day, but purposely take time out to practice gratitude, to reset and re-energise.  I believe learning is the key to growth, and if we can all learn and grow together as an organisation, a team, a company, that we will all benefit and our volunteers will be around for a lot longer.

Quality training manuals thanks to ACSA grant

By Geeta Ortac, Bellingen Riverwatch

I still remember the excitement when I saw the email from ACSA announcing an opportunity for a small grant. The timing couldn’t be better! Bellingen Riverwatch was gaining momentum and we really needed support to print out some good quality copies of our volunteer training manual.

Bellingen Riverwatch is a water quality monitoring citizen science project supporting recovery actions for the critically endangered Bellingen River Snapping turtle (Myuchelys georgesi). These manuals were incredibly important as they served as an ongoing reference and training guide for our volunteers. The manuals aided data collection and ensured volunteer safety at sites. As the manuals were intended for frequent use (mostly in outdoor settings), it was recommended that they should be printed and bounded with good quality materials to withstand wear and stand. Long-term cost savings were a big consideration too. Better quality manuals meant lesser damage, hence lesser need for reprinting.

The training manuals have since been printed and distributed to our volunteers in May 2019. The funding supported production of 16 copies with six more to go. The final six copies will be placed in the water quality kits. I was informed by our Project Coordinator, Amy Denshire (from OzGreen), that the manuals received numerous positive feedback from the volunteers. I think the pictures say it all.

 

I want to thank ACSA for this wonderful funding opportunity. It definitely brought some great benefits to our Bellingen Riverwatch project. For more information about Bellingen Riverwatch, please visit this page.