Phillip Island Nature Parks’ research and conservation activities have entered an exciting new phase with the launch of SealSpotter, a research portal that allows citizen scientists to monitor Victoria’s fur seal populations and contribute to vital data gathering from the comfort of their own homes.
SealSpotter harnesses the drone (RPA – Remote Piloted Aircraft) technology being used by the Nature Parks to monitor several colonies of Australian fur seals on Victoria’s offshore islands.
The drone is equipped with a high resolution camera which can systematically and efficiently photograph an entire fur seal colony within a matter of minutes. These images are then uploaded to the SealSpotter portal for people out in the community to help count the seals, identify numbers of pups and even spot entangled seals to assist in our conservation efforts.
Some of Victoria’s fur seal colonies can number in the tens of thousands, so the contribution made by citizen scientists who can count the various populations accurately and efficiently through SealSpotter is highly valued. Remote monitoring also has the very significant benefit of causing no disturbance to the seals, unlike more traditional methods which require researchers to physically access the colonies.
Citizen scientist collaborators will have the opportunity to log on to the SealSpotter portal at their own convenience, and can choose how long they want to be online. Early reports from some of the community involved in the early testing phase suggest that some found it to be both addictive and relaxing, and most felt a sense of wellbeing about making a valued contribution to ongoing research and monitoring.
The Nature Parks is excited not only about the collection of data, but also about some of the other benefits this type of accessible research collaboration brings. By engaging with a wide range of citizen scientists including individuals, schools and special interest groups, we are hoping that there will be an ever increasing awareness within the community of the need to support research to better understand our natural world and improve conservation.
The SealSpotter portal has been developed by Phillip Island Nature Parks’ researchers thanks to generous funding from the Penguin Foundation and the Telematics Trust, and is due to go live at 9.00am on Wednesday, 9 May.