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Kelp help & DIY astronomy

Each week Cosmos will take a peek inside the diverse and, most importantly, rapidly growing world of Citizen Science in Australia. This week Ian Connellan gets to grips with underwater forests and at-home space watching.

Seaweed watch

Once widespread in Tasmanian waters and also seen along the Victoria and South Australia coasts, giant kelp forests were a conspicuous and iconic feature of southern Australian waters.

Off Tasmania, 95% of these giant underwater forests have been lost over the past several decades; they’re now nationally listed as an endangered marine community. Their decline in eastern Tasmania is linked to the increased influence of warm and nutrient-poor East Australian Current water.

Despite the widespread loss of giant kelp in Tasmania, scattered individuals and patches of forest remain, but location records of these remaining giants are scant. The lack of information about them makes it difficult to sample the remaining forests, and also makes it challenging to track their decline or growth over time.

Cue the Kelp Tracker app: a way for waterway users – especially those with local knowledge expertise such fishers, boaters, divers and paddlers – forests to log sightings of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. The study area extends from Robe, SA, to Mallacoota, Victoria, to Tasmania’s south coast, and includes all Bass Strait islands.

The app provides background information about giant kelp and easy instructions for use whether kelp is sighted on the surface, underwater or via a small-vessel sounder – typical of those used by fishers. Once logged, sightings are verified by kelp scientists. Over time they’ll help inform a map of remnant populations of giant kelp.

To learn more visit Kelp Tracker online.

Universal noise

As featured in the latest issue of Cosmos magazine, the SpaceAusScope project is a chance for amateur astronomers to set up a radio telescope and listen to the Milky Way.

Credit: Rami Mandow

Australia has a great track record in radio astronomy (and, indeed, optical astronomy) – a legacy of small population and dark skies in many parts of the country. Some of Australia’s big radio telescopes beamed back the first images of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and continue communicating with the most distant objects ever created – the Voyager probes.

The SpaceAusScope team’s aim is to keep Australians inspired by radio astronomy – which they’re enacting by getting teams to build their own radio telescopes in backyards. This project is designed to be a fun, collegiate way to learn about radio astronomy, radio telescopes and science.

At last count, 35 teams across the country had signed up and the project’s timelines were stretching beyond original estimates because of COVID-19 – so there’s still a chance to get involved. Project team members include people who’ve never had any interaction with radio astronomy, through to engineers, experts and radio astronomers.

Learn more at the project website or follow the project on Twitter [@SpaceAusDotCom] or Instagram [#SpaceAusScope].

Mapping citizen science

Australian National University visiting fellow Yaela Golumbic recently completed a report about her 2019 survey of citizen science in Australia. The online questionnaire was aimed at mapping citizen science in Australia and learning about its goals, stakeholders and practices.

Nearly 100 project leaders, scientists and practitioners across Australia representing 89 citizen science projects were surveyed.

Among other findings, Golumbic learnt that ecology was the main scientific field for projects and that collecting data was their primary focus.

Golumbic will next turn her attention to the survey’s qualitative data and promises further insights into the project design, assessment and success.

Read more about the survey here.

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