'Citizen scientists' sought for project

The sea slug Spurilla drusilla, found near Portobello last week. Photo by NZ Marine Studies Centre.
The sea slug Spurilla drusilla, found near Portobello last week. Photo by NZ Marine Studies Centre.
Backed by a $159,520 grant, the University of Otago is setting up a national project to mobilise an army of "citizen scientists" to monitor the biodiversity of many small sections of the country's intertidal coast.

The "marine metre squared project"will be launched nationwide early next year during Seaweek, which begins on March 2.

The university gained the grant of $159,520 over three years, from June this year, from the Ministry for the Environment's Community Environment Fund to establish the scheme.

Project co-ordinator Sally Carson said she was "really excited" about the new project. She is programme director at the university's New Zealand Marine Studies Centre, which is developing the project, backed by a Project Advisory Board including marine scientists, teachers, conservators and local councils.

The centre aims to develop community tools for marine monitoring and to link a variety of groups, including schools, iwi, scientific groups and "passionate individuals" to each study a one square metre section of the intertidal coast, at least once and preferably several times a year.

"It's a really good example of a citizen scientist project. It's giving the community a voice, it's raising awareness."

A considerable amount of further work was needed to develop the project, including setting up an internet site where participants could lodge data, and monitor and graph developments in biodiversity over time, and make comparisons with other parts of the country, she said.

The collection of marine data over time would encourage communities to assess changes in their local shoreline and "encourage stewardship and restoration projects".

Survey participants were likely to provide a clearer picture of the spread of the exotic seaweed undaria, which could harm native seaweed species.

The beautiful endemic sea slug Spurilla drusilla had only rarely been seen on the nearby coast by centre staff in recent years. However, centre staff found such a sea slug near the centre, at Portobello, last week, illustrating the interesting finds likely to come to light through regular close monitoring through the project, she said.



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