Citizen Scientists Nurture the Moreton Bay Hope Spot
August 30, 2017
The power of the people that helped to secure Hope Spot designation for Moreton Bay Marine Park in 2016 continues to build on that strong stewardship legacy. In 2017, citizen scientists have been collecting important information on the habitats and wildlife across beautiful Moreton Bay/Quandamooka including topics from mangroves to manta rays. These efforts complement the knowledge and care provided for tens of thousands of years by the traditional owners of the region, and is increasingly important with the rapidly growing population in this unique region.
“Citizen scientists provide not only data, but hope. The commitment to collecting high-quality information to help care for this unique place and its wildlife demonstrates how the community can play a truly important and influential role in science-based stewardship,” said Jennifer Loder, Reef Check Australia.
In the brink of severe coral bleaching impacting the Great Barrier Reef Hope Spot, CoralWatch (www.coralwatch.org) surveys of 460 corals in Moreton Bay showed no extreme increase of coral bleaching in this region. To enhance community awareness, the team also organised educational and awareness events with primary teachers and the public. Next to that team trained six CoralWatch Ambassadors in Brisbane, in how to organise events and reach-out to the community and make them aware about the reef and how they can help.
Reef Check Australia (www.reefcheckaustralia.org) worked with partners to release an updated reef habitat map for inshore Moreton Bay (https://www.reefcheckaustralia.org/inshore-moreton-bay-map.html). The collected field data, expert interpretation and mapping using satellite imagery provided a critical update on the health of inshore reefs on Brisbane’s doorstep for the first time in 10 years. Trained Reef Check volunteers have also been surveying reef condition at key long-term monitoring locations and results were showcased in the 2016-17 South East Queensland Season Summary Report. Reef Ambassadors have been contributing to events across the region to share findings with the community, and inspire greater awareness, knowledge and positive action for beautiful Moreton Bay.
Flinders Reef is one of the many Gems in Moreton Bay, and the team at UniDive have been undertaking detailed ecological surveys and mapping (http://www.unidive.org/unidive-projects/frea/) using the CoralWatch coral health chart (www.coralwatch.org) and Reef Check Australia assessments (www.reefcheckaustralia.org). Volunteers established 10 new sites in March and this effort was rewarded with an underwater visit with the Minister of Environment and the GBR, Steven Miles (https://sees.uq.edu.au/article/2017/03/minister-joins-citizen-scientists-unidive-flinders-reef).
“As scientist we can try to influence politicians with our research findings helping to take care of local reefs, however including citizen scientist in community driven conservation projects will potentially reach more voters making them aware of the importance of the local reefs,” said Dr. Chris Roelfsema, Remote Sensing Research Centre, University of Queensland and project leader UniDIve-FREA and scientific advisor and trainer with Reef Check and Coral Watch.
Seagrass was also watched by the local Seagrass teams (https://wpsqccs.wordpress.com/category/seagrass/) and Science Under Sail team (http://www.susa-velella.com/). Data collection focused on seagrass percent cover, species type and sediment classes using traditional transect methods and newer methodologies that involve an iPhone, image recognition software and satellite imagery. To date intertidal seagrass in Moreton Bay has been relatively stable and continues to support dugongs, turtles, migratory waders and a range of smaller creatures, but wins and losses have been observed in some seagrass meadows due to natural and man-made events.
Volunteers have also been monitoring mangroves with Mangrove Watch (http://www.mangrovewatch.org.au/). Teams of volunteers go in boats along the fringe of the mangrove forest while capture video footage to be used to assessed the health of the Mangroves.
Every year, manta rays gather off the coast of North Stradbroke Island and photos from community divers have captured critical information about their distribution and behaviour patterns. Last year, citizen scientists contributed 356 manta photos. This year, 59% of all sightings of reef manta rays at North Stradbroke Island over the past summer survey period (October 2016 – May 2017) came from the local diving community and data submitted to Project Manta (https://www.facebook.com/ProjectMANTA/posts/10155872558307715). Manta rays have a unique ventral spot pattern which allows individuals to be identified from one another and tracked over time using photo-ID.
The Grey Nurse Shark Watch project has been bolstered by the addition of seven new Project Officers from The University of Queensland this year. Volunteer Project Officers are helping to process and match grey nurse shark identification photos, a critical and time-consuming step in this citizen science project. This is particularly important given the upcoming review of the Recovery Plan for critically endangered grey nurse sharks.