National Waterbug Blitz
The National Waterbug Blitz is Australia’s first nationwide citizen science, waterway monitoring event. Citizen scientists will uncover clues for assessing the health of their local waterways and wetlands by exploring and identifying the waterbugs that live in them.
Funding for the National WaterbugBlitz: citizens assessing Australian waterways was announced in 2017. CeRDI, together with partners Waterwatch, Corangamite CMA, Envirocom Connections and The Waterbug Company were awarded funding from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science as part of the Inspiring Australia – Science Engagement Program. The project was one of only 18 successfully projects to be funded from a large, national pool of applications nationally.
The National WaterbugBlitz will allow communities to engage with nature, build their skills and learn about freshwater biodiversity while participating in assessing our nation’s waterway health. The National WaterbugBlitz builds upon 25 years of successful citizen monitoring in waterways by Waterwatch Victoria and other state/territory Waterwatch and water monitoring programs by harnessing the expertise and knowledge of participants.
Data collected from citizen scientists will provide a new knowledge repository about waterbugs (aquatic macroinvertebrates). These waterbugs live in freshwater and may include the early stages of development for insects such as dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, and water beetles. Waterbugs are sensitive to pollution and declines in water quality, making them a good indicator of waterway health.
Assessment of the nation’s waterways will be coordinated through the National Waterbug Blitz, commencing in October 2018. Community members across Australia will be invited to participate and to collect information on local waterway biodiversity using waterbug surveys. Targeted training sessions will be conducted by existing water monitoring groups and organisations in different states. By partnering community members with expert volunteers and professionals, this collaborative approach will help broad a provide assessment of waterways waterbug surveys in local community areas that are not ordinarily measured.
Until now, the massive scale of monitoring Australia’s waterways by governments and researchers was a formidable task. This project aims to collect good quality data over two consecutive years with involvement from both local citizen scientists and professional scientists. It will be subject to verification procedures and mapped alongside existing professional and organisational data, to allow a broader geographic representation of waterbug populations and waterway health.
The new National Waterbug Blitz website has been developed to link to existing sister sites like Waterwatch Victoria, facilitatingthe exchange of data and information between programs and enhancing accessibility of citizen science data.
This project draws on bespoke technology, developed by CeRDI, for supporting and enhancing citizen science programs. It will build on these technologies by including direct linkages Atlas of Living Australia and ensuring the bi-directional flow of data through API development. It is also the first of CeRDI’s projects to incorporate App technology as a tool for data collection, both environmental and ecological data, but also social data like user motivations and skill.
- A flexible waterbug monitoring MySQL database designed to support data from a range of sources
- A RESTful API built with the Laravel framework for contribution and consumption of waterbug data
- Includes support for authentication via social networks
Designed for, but not limited to, integration with mobile apps as the user interface to the database
The most fundamental aspect of this project is community participation, and success of the project hinges on engaging with volunteers and citizen scientists as broadly as possible. This brings with it challenges in terms of reaching a wide audience in different parts of the country, and supporting those potential participants with resources and training. This is being achieved through an experienced and well-networked project team, whose individual members have links to many community monitoring groups, experienced volunteers, professionals and organisations in the aquatic sciences space.
The Waterbug blitz project team has spent considerable time during the early stages of the project establishing new connections or strengthening existing ones with a wide range of groups and individuals, e.g. Waterwatch NSW and ACT, StreamWatch, Victorian EPA and Melbourne Water. Representation of the project at relevant fora like the Australian Citizen Science Association conference, National Waterwatch network coordinator meetings, and upcoming conferences like Australian Stream Management Conference are crucial to raising awareness of the project and partnering with other organisations for expanding the participant network and sharing data.
The team has developed training resources and sponsorship packages to enable other groups and organisations to host training sessions. These will complement sessions planned through the Waterwatch network. Running simultaneously is the development of technology platforms that underpin the project. In-depth knowledge of the project team members John Gooderham and Michael Sharman is supporting re-development of the Waterbug App and linking it to CeRDI databases, to ensure seamless data collection and transfer, especially is areas with little or no network.
The technology and training resources will culminate in the National Waterbug Blitz website and supporting Waterbug App, ready for the first of two annual blitzs in October 2018.
This project is anticipated to continue beyond the funding period. The information obtained from the 2018 and 2019 waterbug blitzs will be visualised and analysed alongside complementary data on invertebrates, stream habitat and water quality, obtained through the program and from project collaborators via data sharing agreements. In doing so, not only will snap shot information about the state and condition of freshwater systems be obtained but it will also enable a large-scale gap analysis – where data and knowledge are lacking about waterway condition, and how information can obtained to help fill these gaps. The project also aims to increase STEM skills in the community and attract and retain longer-term volunteers in community-based water monitoring.
An oral presentation on the project was given at the Australian Citizen Science Association conference in Adelaide in February 2018. Similar presentations are planned for the upcoming Australian Stream Management Conference (http://www.9asm.org.au/) and the Australian Freshwater Science Society conference (http://www.asl.org.au/).