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Citizen Science unlocking eco-literacy

Citizen Science is a term popping up across the academic, research, land management and community sector that spans a myriad of topics and events, proving to be an incredibly popular way for people to support scientists with on ground and online research across multiple fields. So what is this thing called Citizen Science, and why is it useful?

Anyone can be a citizen scientist, all it takes is some time, curiosity, and an open mind. Blue Derby Wild is deeply committed to integrating Citizen Science in our campaign work because it works, and because it helps build something not taught in our mainstream school curriculums - eco-literacy.

Like all forms of literacy if you’ve not been taught how to read the signs, and indicators of what you’re seeing whether that be on a page, or in an ecosystem you are functionally illiterate. Tasmania has the sad statistic of having a 50% functional literacy rate. Put another way, half of our population are functionally illiterate.

If we were to measure the functional eco-literacy of Tasmanians the statistics would be significantly lower in measuring understanding of what makes a viable and functioning natural ecosystem.

This lack of understanding of our wild places, biodiversity and role of deforestation and habitat loss as key drivers for Australia and Tasmania having one of the worst records for mammal extinctions in the developed world makes sense when you realise people are not being equipped to understand and look after our natural world.

Citizen Science expeditions we hold in the forests of north east Tasmania have proven to be one of the most effective ways for people who may not have had access to scientific training and experience of complex natural systems to work with experts. Specifically in the field of wildlife biology, botany, aquatic habitats or fauna surveys to open up a world, and language, completely new to them.

Most importantly the surveys and events people are taking part in are part of long-term projects surveying native forest habitat of threatened and endangered species to advocate for their protection. The surveys have focused on species such as the Giant freshwater crayfish, and Tasmanian devil, biodiversity surveys in the Blue Tier glacial refugia forests and logging coupe surveys of Gondwanic remnant Tasmanian tree ferns being logged to supply garden centres such as Bunnings.

By involving people in supported Citizen Science surveys on the ground, and threatened forest tours, people are able to build a language to understand the forest ecosystem they are experiencing. To have a framework of understanding on why logging of native habitat is driving animals to extinction, why the little things like insects and small digging marsupials are the foundations of so much of the biological function in a forest, and why it takes over 120 years for a eucalypt tree to become a habitat tree for species that need hollows to survey. When people learn to read their landscape, and understand the signs of ecological health, this is when you see the ’Ah ha’ moment in why native forest logging is so destructive to ecosystem function.

Citizen Science opens up a new world of understanding of the biodiversity and complexity of life in the forests of north east Tasmania, especially when using rapidly evolving tools such as remote fauna camera traps as part of the survey work. Blue Derby Wild has been using remote fauna camera traps to record the native wildlife that inhabits the native forests scheduled for logging around the Derby, Blue Tier and Mutual Valley forests. Camera trap monitoring tracks species large and small from our charismatic carnivores such as Tasmanian Devils, and Spotted tail quoll, to shy and elusive Antechinus and Rakali that would go unnoticed without the use of these non invasive, in situ monitoring devices.

Blue Derby Wild has made this image data of the rare, threatened and endangered wildlife captured on our fauna camera traps available to the national science community via our Institutional Page on the Australian Museum, Wildlife Spotter platform. An online Citizen Science portal that uses the collective knowledge of volunteer scientists and naturalists to review our camera trap footage, identify the animals captured, verify that information and then that information is added to the Atlas of Living Australia Database.

So what is Citizen Science? In a nutshell, citizen science is science.

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