Citizen Science for school students

Citizen science projects are a great way to engage school students in scientific research and environmental monitoring. In Australia, there are several projects that students can get involved in.

Here are some examples:

Students can participate in wildlife monitoring and observation projects. You can report sightings of native animals like birds, possums, or kangaroos through platforms like the Urban Wildlife App

FrogID is a project by the Australian Museum that involves recording and identifying frog calls. Students can use the FrogID app to record frog calls in their local area. This data helps researchers monitor frog populations and biodiversity.

Seek by iNaturalist allows curious naturalists of all ages to earn badges and participate in challenges to observe organisms with on-screen identification using computer vision for identifications based on data from iNaturalist.

The National Waterbug Blitz is a nationwide waterway monitoring event. Everyone is encouraged to become ‘citizen scientists’ and investigate the health their local waterways and wetlands by exploring and identifying the waterbugs.

Students can learn about local flora by participating in tree planting initiatives and surveys of native plants. This helps with reforestation efforts and conserving native species. The School Tree Day is on 26 July 2024

The Aussie Backyard Bird Count is a great birdwatching and monitoring projects. Students can participate in bird surveys, recording the species they see and their behaviours.

The Australian Pollinator Count is taking place during Australian Pollinator Week, from 11-19  November. Taking part is quick and easy. You simply need to observe some flowers for 10 minutes, record the pollinators you see and register your results.

Australia has a unique range of native bee species. Students can learn about these bees and participate in bee monitoring projects to help researchers understand and protect these important pollinators.

Students can set up weather stations at their schools or homes and contribute to climate data collection. Organizations like the Bureau of Meteorology offer resources and guidelines for setting up these stations.

To get involved in these projects, students can often find information on the websites of relevant organizations, science institutions, or local community groups. It’s also a good idea to reach out to teachers, as many schools have partnerships with organizations that offer citizen science opportunities. These projects not only provide valuable data for research but also offer a hands-on and engaging way for students to learn about the environment and scientific processes.

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Celebrating Biodiversity Month

September is Biodiversity Month, a time to celebrate our natural wonders and diverse ecosystems. Biodiversity Month offers us the perfect opportunity to pause and appreciate the beauty, complexity, and importance of biodiversity. Biodiversity Month also encourages us to reflect on our relationship with the natural world and take action to protect it.

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Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth and is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level.

Genetic diversity

Genetic diversity is the variety of genes within a species. Each species is made up of individuals that have their own particular genetic composition. This means a species may have different populations, each having different genetic compositions. To conserve genetic diversity, different populations of a species must be conserved.

Species diversity

Species diversity is the variety of species within a habitat or a region. Some habitats, such as rainforests and coral reefs, have many species. Others, such as salt flats or a polluted stream, have fewer. In Australia, more than 80% of plant and animal species are endemic, which means that they only occur naturally in Australia.

Ecosystem diversity

Ecosystem diversity is the variety of ecosystems in a given place. An ecosystem is a community of organisms and their physical environment interacting together. An ecosystem can cover a large area, such as a whole forest, or a small area, such as a pond.

Biodiversity Month serves as a reminder of the extraordinary diversity of life on our planet and the importance of preserving it. Biodiversity is not just a concern for scientists and conservationists; it’s a global responsibility that each of us can contribute to in our own way. Whether through education, advocacy, or personal lifestyle choices, we can all play a role in safeguarding the web of life that sustains us. So, this September, let’s celebrate and protect the incredible biodiversity that enriches our world.

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Celebrating World Turtle Day

World Turtle Day is an annual event celebrated worldwide on May 23rd to raise awareness about the conservation of turtles and their habitats.

Marine turtle
© David Troeger on Unsplash

Turtles are one of the oldest living reptiles on earth, and they have been around for over 200 million years. They are an important part of the Australian ecosystem, playing a vital role in maintaining the balance of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Turtles are also considered to be keystone species, which means they have a disproportionate effect on the environment relative to their abundance.

There are six species of marine turtles found in Australian waters, including the Green Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle, Flatback Turtle and Leatherback Turtle. They are all listed as Endangered or Vulnerable to extinction.

Image credit: Sea Turtle Foundation

World Turtle Day provides a platform for raising awareness about the conservation needs of these fascinating creatures and encourages action to protect their habitats. It serves as a reminder that we all have a role to play in preserving and safeguarding our natural environment for future generations.

How You Can Make a Difference: On World Turtle Day, and beyond, there are several ways in which you can contribute to turtle conservation:

  1. Reduce plastic consumption: Minimize single-use plastics and participate in local beach clean-ups to prevent marine debris from polluting turtle habitats.
  2. Support conservation organizations: Donate to reputable organizations focused on turtle conservation efforts in Australia and around the world.
  3. Promote responsible tourism: Choose eco-friendly travel operators that prioritize sustainable practices and adhere to guidelines for responsible wildlife encounters.
  4. Educate and raise awareness: Share information about World Turtle Day on social media, organize local events, and engage in conversations that highlight the importance of turtle conservation.
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Honouring our Fuzzy Pollinators on World Bee Day

World Bee Day is celebrated on 20 May every year. It is a day dedicated to the awareness of the vital role bees play in our ecosystem. Bees are responsible for pollinating a third of the food we eat and without them our food supply is at threat. They also play a critical role in the reproduction of plants and the production of honey, making them a crucial part of our natural world.

World Bee Day

Unfortunately, bees are facing a number of threats, including habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and disease. As a result, bee populations around the world are declining at an alarming rate. This decline is not only a threat to bees themselves but also to our food supply and the overall health of our ecosystem.

Australia has more than 1600 native bee species. There could be as many as 2000 to 3000 still to be identified. Australian native bees are wonderful pollinators, especially for our native plants. There are a number of actions we can take to support bee populations and protect their habitats.

Plant bee-friendly flowers and plants in your backyard. Bees rely on nectar and pollen from flowers for their food, so planting flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen can help support bee populations. Great examples include native flowers, lavender and sunflowers.

Avoid using pesticides as they can be harmful to bees and other pollinators. If you must use pesticides, choose ones that are bee-friendly and apply them in the early morning or late evening when bees are not active.

Bees need shelter to protect themselves from the elements and predators. You can help by providing bee houses or leaving dead wood and leaf litter in your garden. Make an Insect Hotel for your Fuzzy Pollinators this World Bee day.

Spread awareness and educate others about the importance of bees and the threats they face. Encourage your friends, family, and community to take action to protect bees and their habitats.

World Bee Day is an opportunity to appreciate the incredible work that bees do for our ecosystem and to take action to protect them. By taking small steps to support bee populations, we can help ensure that they continue to thrive and play their important role in our world.

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Roaring Back in Time

National Dinosaur Day is a time to celebrate Australian Dinosaurs is celebrated on 7 May every year. This special day is a time to recognize and appreciate these incredible prehistoric creatures that roamed the Earth millions of years ago.

The first known dinosaur fossil was discovered in England in the early 1800s. Since then, hundreds of species have been identified all over the world, including Australia. The study of dinosaurs has provided us with invaluable insights into the evolution of life on our planet.

Dinosaur Fossils in Australia

Queensland, in particular, boasts some of Australia’s most significant dinosaur discoveries. The Dinosaur Trail and Winton is the gateway to the prehistoric past. I visited the world-renowned Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum last year, you can see ongoing fossil discoveries and even participate in dinosaur digs. One of the most remarkable dinosaur fossil discoveries in the areas is “Banjo,” Australia’s most complete carnivorous dinosaur.

Whether you are a lifelong dinosaur enthusiast or just starting to learn about these amazing creatures, today is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate their place in history and learn more about the science behind their existence. With new discoveries and advancements in technology, the study of dinosaurs continues to fascinate and inspire people of all ages. So why not join in the fun and celebrate? You never know what you might learn!

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SeaWeek 2023

SeaWeek is Australia’s major national public awareness campaign to focus community awareness and appreciation of the sea. This week-long event is held every year in March and provides a great opportunity to learn about marine environment. So, take a dive under the water this SeaWeek and explore our amazing marine environments with me.

Seaweek graphic

It was great to be able to spend time diving over the last few week exploring the marine environment around Sydney.

Marine Life title slide

Explore the amazing diversity of Marine Life. Take a journey beneath the waves to explore this wonderful world. Learn about some of these incredible animals, their adaptions and habitats with the resources below.

Where the river meets the sea title slide

Follow the journey of water down the river through the catchment to the sea. Water is essential for all forms of life and the small amount of available freshwater create competing pressures for our water resources. 

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Adventures on the Great Barrier Reef

I was very excited to get back to the Great Barrier Reef last week. I stayed out on Ocean Quest for 5 days diving Norman and Saxon Reefs. Over the 5 days I went on 12 amazing dives and 4 snorkels exploring both reefs.

The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage site that stretches more than 2,000km. The reef can be seen from space and is under threat. No other World Heritage site contains so much biodiversity — more than 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of molluscs, and 240 species of birds. Don’t forget all the sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans and other species.

The variety of fish life is staggering, everywhere you look, you see something new hiding amongst the coral or out on the sand. The photos don’t do it justice.

Sometimes you only get a glimpse, but that is enough to see my first Hammerhead Shark.

The team from Deep Sea Divers Den were fabulous, all the staff from the kitchen to the dive crew made my stay an incredible adventure. I’m already planning my trip next year.

A big thanks also goes out to Saara & Lachie and Claudio and Natalie for letting me join their dives and for sharing their photos and video footage with me.

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Cicadas Chorus

In Australia we know it is summer when the Cicadas starts their chorus. Cicadas are the loudest insects in the world and emerge from their underground world in late spring and summer. The peak Cicada season is November and December.

Cicadas Red Eye Cicada on tree
Red Eye Cicada Psaltoda moerens

Cicadas spend most of their life underground with many large Australian species living underground as nymphs for around 6-7 years. This is why in certain years some species are more abundant than others, there is often peaks every few years.

Listen out for the sounds of cicadas and keep an eye out for their exoskeletons on trees, walls, fences and shrubs.

The life of an adult cicada is very short, lasting only a few weeks. The female cicada lays its eggs by piercing plant stems and inserting the eggs into the slits it has made. The eggs hatch and are small, wingless nymphs. They fall to the ground and burrow below the surface. They live on the sap from plant roots and when the nymph reaches full size it digs its way to the surface. The nymphs then climbs on to a tree trunk or other object and sheds its skin for the last time. The fully-winged adult cicada which emerges leaves its old empty skin behind.

Watch the Cicada Lifecycle video form the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Did you know?

  • Australia has an estimated 750 to 1000 species of cicada
  • Only male cicadas sing. They do this in an attempt to find a mate.
  • Different species have different songs to attract only their own kind.
  • Adult cicadas have short lives, usually only a few weeks.
  • Most of their lives are spent as nymphs underground. For some species this can be up to several years.
  • Cicadas feed only on plant sap using their piercing, sucking mouthparts.
  • Cicadas feed on a huge range of plants, including eucalypts and grasses.
  • Birds, bats, spiders, wasps, ants, mantids and tree crickets all prey on cicadas.

I heard a weird cicada sound during a walk around the Badu Wetlands in Sydney Olympic Park. As I got closer, I discovered a Praying Mantis devouring a cicada.

If you love cicadas too follow Cicadarama. They are an Australian-based project focused on learning about the lives of cicadas. They need your help, become a Citizen Scientist and log your Cicada sighting.

FrogID Week 2022

FrogID Week 2022 is on between 11 – 20 November.  This is the fifth FrogID Week and you can get involved. Australia is home to about 240 species of native Amphibians, all of which are frogs. In urban areas, human development has reduced the natural habitat available to frogs. FrogID Week is a great way to learn about frogs living in your backyard.

Help to record frog calls during FrogID Week using the free app and uncover which frogs live in your backyards, local parks and bushlands. Your recording can help identify changes to local frog populations and inform frog conservation across Australia. Download the free FrogID app today and help us count Australia’s frogs.

Watch the Focus on Frogs video to find out more about Frogs.

You can create a frog friendly garden

Frogs are very sensitive to water loss because their skin is permeable. This also means Frogs are really sensitive to chemicals. Frogs can end up absorbing chemicals that could harm or potentially even kill them. Pesticides can also deplete the frogs’ food source.

You can encourage frogs to come to live and breed in your backyard by creating a frog friendly garden. Create a small shallow pond in an area that is partly shaded or install a Frog Hotel.

Reducing chemicals use in your garden 

Creating a Frog Habitat 

Be patient and wait, if you build it they will come

Use FrogID to research the frogs that are found in you local area. This will help you work out what kind of habitat will suit your backyard best.

You can use PVC pipe to create a habitat for tree frogs. Frog Tubes are an easy way to provide somewhere safe for tree frogs to live too. Use a 1 metre length of PVC pipe and stick the base in the ground to tie them to a tree. It provides a really moist environment for tree frogs to hide in.

A Frog Hotel is a great option for tree frogs and provide them a safe place to hide during the day. Check out the video below for step by step instructions on how ro make a Frog Hotel.

Discover more about Frogs and some of their amazing adaptions. There are also lots of information to create a frog friendly backyard in your area.

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Underwater at Shelly Beach

It was great to get back in the water after a long winter break. Hearing that there were Port Jackson Sharks (PJs) at Shelly Beach got me in the water today. I lost count after about 25, there were PJs everywhere. They varied in colour and most were under a metre long.

Port Jackson Shark

Port Jackson Shark, Heterodontus portusjacksoni are very common tis time of year, between May – October. The teeth of the Port Jackson Shark are not serrated and are used to hold and break, then crush and grind the shells of molluscs and sea urchins.

Giant Cuttlefish

The Giant Cuttlefish Sepia apama are one of my favourite animals to find on a dive. On our way back to shore I spotted one under under a rocky ledge and was excited to see a second Cuttle hiding too. They are inquisitive and playful and came out in the open to check us out.

Blue Groper

The Eastern Blue Groper Achoerodus viridis is a familiar sight for Sydney Divers. The friendly Blue Groper often follows you around while you are on a dive. I have been surprised more than once to turn around and be face to face with one of these guys. You can find out more about the Blue Groper on the Australian Museum website

Smooth Stingray

We saw several Smooth Stingrays Bathytoshia brevicaudatais hiding in the sand when we were on the way back to shore. One was on top of the sand and the other had covered itself in sand. You could just see the outline of the stingray and the eyes sticking out above the sand. The Smooth stingray are the largest stingray in the world, but sometimes still hard to spot. Check out the video below (not my video).

What can you do to help preserve this amazing environment?

  • Remove any rubbish that you find in the water or on the beach
  • Remove any bits of fishing line and nets that you see
  • Be aware that what you do on land impacts our marine systems downstream
Plastics in the Ocean Infographic
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