Most ocean lovers wish they could do more to protect the fragile environment they love. Diving tourism can have a positive impact giving monetary value to pristine reefs and bringing income to local communities; but what if you could do more to help scientists and conservationists do their job?
Those fighting to conserve the marine environment need scientific data to put to governments to bring about policy changes and more legal environmental protection. They often have little resources both in terms of money and staff.
Several bright minds put two and two together and came up with the concept of citizen science, whereby members of the public can support scientists’ work by collecting data, thus adding a much larger pool of human resources and much more data.
What exactly is citizen science?
“Here are four common features of citizen science practice:
(a) anyone can participate,
(b) participants use the same protocol so data can be combined and be high quality,
(c) data can help real scientists come to real conclusions, and
(d) a wide community of scientists and volunteers work together and share data to which the public, as well as scientists, have access”.
Citizen science in Nusa Penida
Our island is home to special species like the manta ray, found in Manta Point Nusa Penida; Mola Mola are found in some of the best diving spots in Nusa Penida, two species of turtles are seen daily; and sharks come through on a regular basis. Nusa Penida really has some of the best diving around Bali.
Hence it attracts a large number of dive tourists and has a number of different dive operators. A lot of the dive tourists come with underwater cameras or similar ‘go pro’ style equipment and their guides are in the water, diving Nusa Penida, every single day. Valuables eyes for people studying the afore mentioned species.
Nusa Penida has several citizen science projects that you can participate in by sending or posting your shots. You need to read up what they need exactly so you can provide data they can use; but how exciting to be diving Nusa Penida, collecting great shots not just for yourself but also to support the understanding , monitoring and protection of some of your favourite marine animals
Below are the main projects operating in Nusa Penida, Bali, that need your data or your direct involvement:
Nusa Penida Turtle Project
This project focuses on the conservation of the turtles species found on Nusa Penida , the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle. The scientists on this project are working hard to better understand the behaviour, distribution and population numbers of these beautiful animals. What they need are head shots showing clearly the side of the head and pictures that show the turtles shell from above (see picture below) so the scientists can identify individual turtles or if the turtle is an unknow, add it to the database and who knows, it could just maybe be named after you! Info about depth and the dive site helps understand the turtles’ behaviour and distribution. Nusa Penida Turtle Project have a facebook page which is easily accessible so you can share your pictures with them.
Let’s face it most people come to Nusa Penida first and foremost for Manta ray diving. Whilst you are enjoying the beauty of these magnificent animals and getting wonderful photos to take home you can also help scientists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation find out where the mantas go, what they do and who they are!
Just like for the turtles you need a good quality ID shot and it must show the right part of the manta’s belly so that scientists can identify them. Indeed, the spots of the manta’s stomach are unique, and no two individuals have the same. If the picture you send in is good, it gets put through the manta matcher algorithm which is similar to facial recognition software, it will compare this manta to other mantas in the data base. It may recognise an individual which brings more information as to its behavioural patterns; or it could be that your manta is not in the database yet and a new profile is created, and you can get regular updates when ‘your’ manta is spotted again.
Here is an example of a proper shot:
Match my Mola!
Probably one of the strangest creatures in the sea, one of the most sought after in Nusa Penida Diving, the Mola Mola truly is one of the stars of the show and gets its picture taken a lot.
What most people don’t know is that they can help scientists learn more about this bizarre deepsea bony fish by submitting their pictures. Like with the turtles and mantas, there are rules as to what pictures will work for ID and which ones won’t. For Molas, individuals are identified by the unique patterns on their side. Thus, the camera needs to be as parallel as possible to the side of the fish which no obstructions or bubbles or cleaner fish. Like with the other animals, you need to add info on dive site and depth and date but also water temperature (the coldest for the dive). If the Mola has not yet been identified, you get to name it!
Become an Eco Diver with Reef Check in Indonesia
This is a little more hands-on that just taking a few shots during your dives. But if you feel like you want to learn more and get more involved, Reef check eco diver training and participation in monitoring efforts is the one for you. Reef check created an easy and quick standardised method for monitoring reef health so as to have a base line of reefs around the world and be able to keep track of their evolution through time using layman monitoring. Dive centres will often have a house reef that they like to keep and eye on and getting their divers trained up and participating usually has great benefits for the divers, who learn more about the environment they love to dive; the dive centre, who has data on their reef to implement action if needed; and the scientific community at large to help pressure and implement national / international policy ( such as protected area creation , marine pollution laws, etc.) by using the data on the evolution of reef cover, health and fish abundance provided.
The training only takes a couple of days and enables divers to identify key fish and invertebrate species, called indicator species. These indicator species may feed on coral polyps but be beneficial to the reef so abundance indicates a healthy reef- for example butterfly fish- or they may eat coral and destroy it so abundance indicates a stressed reef- crown of thorns starfish for example. You also learn to identify different substrate cover (hard coral, soft coral, algae, etc) so as to provide data on coral cover and presence of beneficial or harmful algae for instance.
Being an Eco Diver gives you the tools to provide valuable data for NGO scientists to use and work closely with them and dive centres working with them on monitoring programs. Your small participation mat help change policy for the better!
Make your dive counts with Project Aware Dive Against Debris
Project Aware is a non-profit dedicated to ocean conservation and one of their area of focus is ocean trash. By taking the Dive Against Debris specialty course, you will learn how to safely collect trash underwater, and then identify and separate it so it can be reported. By reporting the trash you pick up on every single dive, you are contributing towards a huge amount of data in order to understand better what type of debris go into our oceans and how to fight it.Make your dives count and help clean up the ocean!