Sharks and Researchers Benefit from Citizen Science

Written by on April 29, 2014 in Marine Life, Sharks
Grey reef shark in Palau.

Grey reef shark in Palau. Photo credit: moments in nature by Antje Schultner via photopin cc.

A new study shows how recreational dive guides can help researchers monitor shark populations. Researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) compared counts of sharks reported by professional dive guides at popular dive sites in Palau, Micronesia with automated counts generated by sharks fitted with acoustic tags.

The dive guides monitored sharks on more than 1,000 dives over a five-year period and the data they collected closely mirrored results from the tags. Data from the dive guides also provided researchers with information that wasn’t revealed by the tags: reef sharks prefer certain water temperatures and current regimes on the reef.

The findings support the use of citizen science and show that guides are “accurate and reliable observers.”

Citizen science is being used more and more by the scientific community, but there remains controversy about the quality of data collected from those projects. Previous studies have used citizen science to monitor changes in shark populations, but this was the first independent, long-term assessment of the quality of such data.

“Our study shows that with a little bit of training, experienced recreational divers can collect very useful data that can be used to monitor shark populations over broad areas and long periods of time at minimal cost,” lead author Gabriel Vianna explained in a news release.

Low-cost, reliable citizen science projects could help shark conservation efforts at many popular diving destinations, particularly in developing countries and island nations that depend on marine tourism but don’t have the financial resources for shark research.

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Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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