Social Media Map May Protect Last Great Marine Wilderness

Citizen scientists to use social media to document ecosystems and development in Western Australia.

Just offshore from the rust-colored cliffs of northwestern Australia lie what could be the world's richest petroleum and natural gas fields. The site is also "the last great marine wilderness left on Earth," said Duke University marine biologist Dave Johnston.
To study the remaining wilderness, Johnston has teamed with a Duke alumnus and Australian colleagues at Murdoch University to create a citizen science experiment that will collect observations of the region by local residents, traditional owners and tourists through social media tools.
"Our greatest concern is that the traditional environmental assessment process is overwhelmed," said team member Lars Bejder, a marine biologist in Murdoch's Cetacean Research Unit. "The current approval process does not allow sufficient time to document baseline information on the ecosystems of Northwestern Australia through standard scientific means and still keep pace with the rate of development. We hope our approach can help fill some of these gaps," he said.
During several expeditions to Western Australia, the team will document the state of the coastal ecosystems, with a particular focus on the snubfin and humpback dolphins. They also hope to build a network of citizen scientists who will share their experiences in the region through Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube updates. The updates will automatically feed, in real-time, onto an open-access map.

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