Thursday, February 14, 2013

Effort enlists citizens to shine light on light pollution

Light may be one of the most overlooked environmental threats to the Great Lakes, according to a project that recently mapped them.

Researchers with the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project mapped environmental stressors to the Great Lakes, including light pollution.

Excessive lighting disrupts wildlife habits and habitats, said David Allan, a professor with the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan who led the project.

... Reaching out to people everywhere, including the Great Lakes region, the GLOBE at Night project is attempting to build a global database of light pollution through citizen-science.

“In cases like this, no one scientist can get all the data they need,” Said Connie Walker, an associate scientist and senior science education specialist with the GLOBE at Night program. “That’s the nature of citizen-science. It’s the best way to involve people in science and get a lot of data from a lot of places in a short amount of time.”

Great Lakes Echo -
13 Feb 2013
J Dau

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How Your Vacation Photos Could Help Save the Freaking Whale Shark

Prior to the 1980s, there were fewer than 350 confirmed sightings of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) worldwide. But by next year, that annoying girl on your Facebook feed who seems to do nothing but go on vacation will probably have a whole album full of whale shark pics. And that’s just what might save the beautiful bastards from extinction.

Whale sharks are thought to be quite rare, but scientists have long struggled to estimate their true numbers. Individual animals can be identified through unique markings behind each gill and an inventory of scars, but the fact that the creatures seem to migrate thousands of miles over the course of a year makes it difficult to keep pace with them. (Help us help you, whale sharks.) They are officially listed as facing a high risk of extinction in the wild, where they are vulnerable to collisions with boats and lovers of shark fin soup.

Fortunately, tourists love to take pictures of sea monsters. It probably helps that the world’s largest fish enjoys warm waters, slow surface swimming, and a diet that looks nothing like a human being. And while they react when touched, whale sharks usually pay little mind to swimmers and divers, likely because their massive size—they’re about the length of a school bus and weigh 20 tons—means they fail to see us as a threat. (Hubris: not just for humans.) This matter-of-factness also means any old tourist with a decent point-and-click can capture clear enough images to use for identification.

Thanks to a study by Tim Davies, a researcher at Imperial College London, scientists are now confident these amateur images can be used to identify the whereabouts of individual whale sharks on a global scale. Utilizing pattern recognition software and photo management tools, crowd-sourced pics from sites like Flickr were successfully used to obtain IDs in 85 percent of cases. The ability to recognize and log sightings of individual whale sharks is huge because it allows scientists in, say, Australia to keep tabs on animals that appear locally for a only a few weeks a year. (Over the course of 36 months, one whale shark took a world tour of over 8,000 miles.) Checking positive IDs against other images also gives us a more accurate representation of just how many of these filter-feeding crazies are really out there. Plus, flipping through the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library is like a marine biologist’s version of Facebook. (You’ve gotta see how much weight #716AC put on this winter!)

Slate -
12 Feb 2013
J Bittel

Friday, February 8, 2013

Citizen science: People making a difference in their community and across the state

Everyday people from across the state are contributing their time to collect information on Michigan’s bountiful natural resources that scientists can use to increase our knowledge and understanding of the environment. Michigan Sea Grant works with numerous organizations who offer opportunities for interested people to get involved in citizen science.

One such project, the Michigan Herp Atlas Program is seeking assistance from people who observe reptiles and amphibians (collectively known as herpetofauna) in their natural habitats here in Michigan.

According to program administrator, David Mifsud, volunteer observations are critical to the success of the project. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources lists more than 60 percent of all of Michigan’s amphibians and reptiles as Species of Greatest Conservation Need. These imperiled species are important indicators to the quality of our natural resources and a critical part of healthy, functioning ecosystems.

Michigan State University -
01 Feb 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Raccoon rabies – Citizen-based surveillance is a success

Rabies is an important health concern for humans, domestic animals and wildlife throughout Canada. In 2006, the province of Québec launched a major initiative to eliminate raccoon rabies since its initial discovery in southern Québec. For the past six years, this program has continued its efforts of surveillance, vaccination and research, all of which rely heavily on public participation and awareness.

The provincial government of Québec recently issued a press release stating that citizen participation has greatly contributed to the success of the raccoon rabies prevention plan. Citizen reports of suspect animals increased by 18% in 2012, and visits to the program website increased by 25%.

Thanks to surveillance and vaccination of wild raccoons, skunks, and foxes, no cases of raccoon rabies were detected in Québec for the 3rd consecutive year. It remains clear that public participation is key to the continuing effectiveness of the provinces provincial rabies program.

CCWHC blog -
05 Feb 2013