Citizen Scientist monitoring program underway

If you’ve recently spotted a koala or other unusual critters in your backyard, you’re not alone.

A locally run, Citizen Science monitoring program which records and collects data about changes to our environment has been capturing fascinating movements of native plant and animal species in the Blue Mountains region.

Koalas moving through the urban-bushland interface of the upper mountains are just one of many unique phenomena a team of volunteers are tracking through a longitudinal program run by the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute (BMWHI) in partnership Scenic World, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, and Science for Wildlife.

Spearheading the project, is BMWHI’s Dr John Merson who says; “This citizen science monitoring program will help us understand what is happening in our local environment, so we can then better manage and mitigate the potentially negative impacts that climate change driven movements of plants and animals may have on the ecosystems of our region.”

After a pilot phase was established at Scenic World last year, the team are now entering a second phase of the program, with data collection points being established on the Fairfax Track in Blackheath and around the Conservation Hut at Wentworth Falls, with more sites in the lower mountains being assessed for suitability in coming years.

At each location, motion sensor cameras, along with photos taken at specific sites, provide ecological researchers such as Dr Ricky Spencer from Western Sydney University with valuable insights into the often subtle changes that are taking place in the bushland around us. 

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Each week interested citizens, such as Paul Vale gather at the recently established monitoring sites on the Fairfax track in Blackheath to collect the photographic data which is then logged into the CSIRO’s Bio Collect database for later analysis.  “The processes involved are easy to follow” Paul said, “which make it simple for new volunteers to join the program.”

The analysis from this project will provide National Parks and the Blue Mountains City Council with a valuable overview of species migration and the movement of feral animal and invasive plant species, all of which are key indicators of the accelerating impact of climate change on plants and animals across the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

For Erin Roger, the chairwoman of the Australian Citizen Science Association, the role of the citizen scientist is integral to the evolution of modern science. “Environmental agencies have massive amounts of data requirements and needs,” she states. “Professional science alone cannot provide information at the scales and resolutions necessary to understand environmental change.”

If you’d like to be part of BMWHI’s citizen science project, please contact John Merson at j.merson@bmwhi.org.au or Paul Vale via email: bushcare@bluemountains.org.au

If you’re lucky enough to spot a koala, visit the Blue Mountains Koala page at scienceforwildlife.org and file your report!