As scuba divers, free divers or snorkelers we are privileged to enjoy the beautiful marine environment, however we are also at the front line witnessing changes to it as the years go by. As the population continues to surge the impact on all of Earths ecosystems can be colossal, especially for marine ecosystems. Our need for resources continues to grow by the day, but we are also becoming more and more aware of the importance of preserving species and their ecosystems.
Although there are the big businesses who sometimes don’t care if they wipe out a rain forest or destroy endless coral reefs for money, there are also a huge amount of people fighting to protect what we are lucky enough to share our planet with. However in order to be able to work quickly and efficiently the conservationists and scientists need data to show the impact that industries are having. Unfortunately, getting high quality data needs a lot of man power, money and time. With big industries ever expanding and simply removing anything in their path, time is something we do not have.
So there is nothing that can be done, right? Wrong! We can help make an enormous difference. Citizen science (also known as crowd science, or volunteer monitoring) is scientific research conducted by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Basically by learning a few simple methods any member of the public can collect data and report it back to different organisations where a team of scientists will be ready to evaluate and use the data to help protect our planet.
Beach and Shore Clean Ups
Cleaning the beach helps in more ways than just protecting the local environment and making the area look nicer. Reporting exactly what we are finding can help find the sources that are contributing to marine debris. Organisations such as Project AWARE or ICC will pull all this data together and show us exactly what sort of numbers we are dealing with, and from there plans can be formulated to help cut those numbers. In 2014 just under 650,000 volunteers helped clean up roughly 5.5 million kilograms of litter (which included over 2 million cigarette butts and nearly half a million plastic shopping bags)! All of which was sorted and categorised.
Many dive schools take part in regular clean ups, as do many local organisations. Also on days such as Earth Day hundreds of thousands of people will descend on their local beaches to help do their bit. This doesn’t just need to be done along the shore. Large amounts of marine debris (such as fishing nets or plastic bags) can get trapped underwater along the reefs, so ask your local dive shops if they will be conducting an underwater clean up any time soon.
Coral reef covers an estimated 284,000 km2 of the ocean’s surface, which is a huge amount to try and monitor. There are a vast amount of organisations out there such as Reef Check using divers to help monitor the reefs, so there may be one that is local to you. Reef monitoring involves identifying species, counting their numbers and sizes, as well as monitoring the condition of the reef itself, checking for coral bleaching, damage and algae coverage. To take part in reef monitoring you will need to undergo training in species identification, monitoring techniques and perfecting buoyancy as you will be spending a lot of time close to the reef. This means not only will you be able to make in important contribution to marine conservation, your diving will improve too!
Species Photo ID
Did you know that every whale shark has a unique pattern of spots, and each manta has a different underside pattern? Just like we can be identified with our finger print, many creatures can be identified by certain patterns on their bodies. The truth is that we still know very little about behaviours of these gentle giants, and we still know almost nothing about where they breed or birth. This information is vital to help protect them from things such as habitat destruction and poaching.
If you are ever lucky enough to see one of these magnificent creatures and you have a camera with you, take as many photos as possible and send them in to websites such as Manta Matcher who will use the photos to identify the individual and track their movements. This technique also gives us an idea of the numbers of that species, which is important while trying to protect them.
It’s time for all of us to do our bit!
These are just some of the ways that you can help save our oceans, and the best thing is that you don’t need to have a degree in conservation or marine biology. As divers we enjoy what our water have to offer us, but we also need to give back as much as we can to protect it. By taking part in any Citizen Science project we are helping preserve the planet for our future generations to enjoy. Help spread the word, and get more and more involved, because as a team we can make a difference.
‘Citizen Science. Helping Protect our Planet’ was written by Mike