Citizen Scientist Reef Project Wins Eureka Award
Professor Graham Edgar and Dr Rick Stuart-Smith from the University of Tasmania won a Eureka Prize for their study of reef systems across the world using a team of 200 recreational divers to collect data. The project, Reef Life Survey (RLS), aims to improve biodiversity conservation and the sustainable management of marine resources.They coordinate surveys of rocky and coral reefs using scientific methods, with the ultimate goal to improve coastal stewardship.RLS has established the first global baseline of marine biodiversity using consistent methods, which includes abundance data for over 3500 marine species at more than 2000 sites in 40 countries. The basic concept that RLS is using is similar to the projects of Reef Check. However, Reef Check uses a simpler sampling methods and a list of representative species.
Volunteer divers are trained and advance on four levels. The level one diver is a trainee. Once an application is accepted the divers is given an online training program and a series of exercises to conduct underwater. When the diver feels he has reached a level of competency he joins a subsidized survey. These are week end events designed to gather information on a primary research site. At this event the new diver will be paired with a level three or four diver. They will conduct a survey on the survey line next to their partner. The information will be evaluated after the dive. Using the experience diver's survey as a baseline the new divers skills can be evaluated. After a few dives the new diver's skills should be such as to allow the advancement to level two. Information gathered by a level one diver is not entered into the data base but is made available as unsupported observations. Divers at level three and four are allowed to work independently and invite level two divers to join them. They can schedule their own surveys of the sites of secondary interest and can even add new sites and surveys to the data base.
Crowd funding proved that individuals over a vast distance can contribute to the success of a project. Recently a number of marine projects have been successful with the same technique.