Divers help track marine species

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Thanks to a helping hand from the public along with government grants, scientists will be able to map the migration of fish, turtles, sharks and other marine species around the Tasmanian coast.

In 2009, researchers from the University of Tasmania set up the interactive REDMAP (Range Extension Database and Mapping Project) website, where fishers, divers, swimmers, and beachgoers could report the presence of marine species in in local Tasmanian seas. The aim was to identify sea creatures’ marine habitat and what may be altered by climate change.

Originally exclusive to Tasmania, the project will expand to the whole Australian coast in November 2012.

“REDMAP acts as an important early indicator for new species being reported in an area they have not been found in before” says Phillip Glyde, deputy secretary of the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, which helped fund the expansion of the REDMAP project through the Climate Change Research program.

Marine conservation help from fishers

Thanks to member sightings, REDMAP has shown that some species of fish tend inhabit areas further south than they are usually found. Increasing sea temperature driven by climate change may force fish to travel south to cooler waters, the researchers say.

For Dr Alexandra Campbell, an ecologist from the University of New South Wales, making REDMAP available to 3.5 million fishers and divers nationwide is a boon for science. “Using this sort of unconventional tool for gathering data on the location and condition of marine species is essential in a country like Australia, which has an extensive coastline and limited resources to carry out specialist monitoring programs” she says.

Researchers hope the program will raise awareness of the impact of climate change on marine life.

“We’re involving people in the discovery of how our ecosystems are changing – engaging people in the science of climate change through activities they enjoy like fishing and diving” says Dr Gretta Pecl, a marine ecologist at the University of Tasmania and principal researcher for REDMAP. “People are very happy about having something valuable to contribute to scientific research.”

A smart phone application is being be developed to enable Australian fishers, boaters or divers to log sightings and photos of uncommon species instantly and on the spot. These will be checked by scientists at REDMAP and instantly mapped on the website.