Visit the bottom of the ocean…without getting wet!

By August 21st, 2013 at 11:23 am | Comment

This project is part of our Back to School 2013 round-up of projects. Read more about them!

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Calling all citizen scientists! It doesn’t matter where you are. You can still be an ‘honorary’ diver to help with this project. The idea is simply to look at seafloor photos on your computer and catalogue what you find.

Explore the Sea Floor is part of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) using their state-of-the-art Automated Underwater Vehicle (AUV), which has several incorporated cameras. “The goal is to produce seafloor images of Australia’s coastal shelf so that we can quantify biodiversity at a continental scale and determine the effects of climate change,” says Dr. Ezequiel Marzinelli, from the Centre of Marine Bio-innovation at University of New South Wales and one of the several scientists involved in the project.

Forests of common kelp provide a haven for many aquatic species. However, water temperatures are changing fast and Dr. Marzinelli and colleagues are keen to identify how kelp reacts to these changes and what consequences they may have on biodiversity. To add to the misfortune, kelp is also under attack by a particularly large species of sea urchins, typically found in the north of the island, but recently seen heading south. An invasion by this species is like driving a bulldozer through a forest, turning a healthy kelp habitat into a barren desert.

It’s easy to see that researchers need to come with a solution to save the kelp forest. To get there, the first step is to determine changes in distribution in both kelp and sea urchin and see how that relates to water temperature. In this case, the team opted for a crowd-sourcing approach and are asking citizen scientists from across the world to help identify species present. “By doing this, we also hope to increase people’s awareness of the environmental issues we face today,” says Dr. Marzinelli.

To start, participants need to go to the “Explore the Sea Floor” website to register and simply follow a short tutorial explaining what to do. “The beauty about this project is that the only thing participants need is an internet connection,” says Dr. Marzinelli. “It’s just like tagging people on Facebook.”  Citizens scientists can specialize in spotting sea urchins or helping to find where kelp may be hiding.  Both are important, and participants can swap between the two areas in the project. This is an on-going project and there’s still time to tag at least 10 photos to get in with a chance to win an underwater camera. Competition closes at 12 midday AEST on Monday 2nd September, 2013.


Photo: Explore the Sea Floor

Dr. Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biology and genetics. She holds a degree and MSc in Animal Science, topped up with a PhD in Embryology. In a ‘previous life’ as a researcher, she worked in the field of cell and molecular biosciences and published various scientific manuscripts including in Nature. Nowadays, however, she spends most of her time reading and writing science articles for several news outlets. Recent work includes articles published in The Munich Eye, Decoded Science, United Academics Magazine, BitesizeBio and Science NOW. After moving around the UK for a while, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. When not working, she can be found trying to get friendly with the ‘locals’, from deer to seals, otters or even sea eagles.