Changes to weather patterns, plant life and animal sightings have long been the subject of community discussions in the Blue Mountains but, until now, many of these changes haven’t been receiving the kind of scientific scrutiny they deserve.
This changed in 2018 when the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute and Scenic World joined forces to launch our Climate Change and Ecological Monitoring project.
The project involves camera trap installations to capture movements of fauna in real-time as well as manual photography in fixed locations to capture long-term changes to flora and ecosystems. These captured images are collected each week and uploaded to the BMWHI database. All images are then codified and analysed by our research team, then uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia database using the BioCollect tool designed for citizen science projects.
Since the first pilot in 2018, conducted by the Institute in conjunction with Scenic World staff in the Jamison Valley Katoomba, the project has expanded to cover two other sites in the Upper Blue Mountains, Blackheath and Wentworth Falls. The two extra sites are powered by the dedication of several local volunteers, many of whom are already involved in community conservation and bushcare groups.
Regular fauna sightings on the walks and camera traps to date have included lyre birds, black cockatoos, quolls, foxes, feral cats and wallabies.
Now in its second year of operation, the initiative is set to expand to more sites in the Mid-Lower Mountains, thanks to the support of local residents in and around Springwood.
While monitoring in the mid-lower mountains is still very much in an embryonic stage, with field sites yet to be chosen, the residents spearheading the project expansion have an impressive amount of expertise to bring to the table.
Dr. Aaron Greenville has been a resident of Warrimoo for about 8 years. He is an ecologist, a passionate nature photographer and a Lecturer in Spatial Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at The University of Sydney.
Aaron’s area of expertise is in monitoring changes to ecosystems caused by factors such as climate change, rainfall, predators, weeds and other external disturbances like wildfires. Much of this work in the past has involved monitoring and analysing 20 - 30 year ecological data sets from the arid zone of Central Australia.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to set up a long-term monitoring project in the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains is a perfect location to do something like this because of the diversity of its vegetation, and the fact that the geography of the region acts as a kind of natural boundary for species. It’s also interesting because it’s right on the edge of a major international city where we see pressures like the Western Sydney airport and other urban development potentially have an impact. Also, as the effects of climate change intensify, the Blue Mountains region may well be an important refuge for species, and with its status as a World Heritage area, the region absolutely deserves our attention.”
Through his work at The University of Sydney, Aaron is starting to explore the use of machine learning with devices to identify species captured in camera trap photographs. Aaron is also exploring the use of Eco-Acoustic devices that record all sounds and help identify species of bats, birds, frogs and insects. These kinds of devices allow scientists to collect, process and analyse sound and visual data at a radically quicker rate, helping to reduce the significant time and expense involved in manual processes as well as help produce information outcomes like the detection of biodiversity change. It’s possible that devices such as these may be applied to the Citizen Science Climate Change Eco-Monitoring project in the future.
Other local residents involved in the lower mountains project are Bill Dixon, a long-term supporter and former Board Member of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute who has over 20 years experience working in Environmental Management for the State Government, and Vic Giniunas, a recently retired electrical engineer, who has a lifelong interest in nature conservation and is now involved in a number of environmental projects throughout the Blue Mountains region.
Dr. John Merson, Executive Director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, is hoping to achieve a self-sustaining ecological monitoring project powered by local citizens, that captures data from as many sites as possible across the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
The citizen science groups meet once a week at their designated sites to check the camera traps and record photographs of fauna and flora in marked locations. Expeditions involve easy and enjoyable 1 hour strolls into the beautiful nature of the Blue Mountains and then looking at the images recorded over the previous week - no scientific experience is necessary and all training is provided.
More volunteer scientists are always needed and most welcome. If you’d like to get involved and help expand the Citizen Science Climate Change Eco-Monitoring project, or would just like more information, please contact email@example.com.