Citizen science a winner for shark conservation

From ABC News in Science, 24 April 2014:

Citizen science has proven its worth by delivering better quality data on shark populations than conventional acoustic tagging methods, and at lower cost.

Researchers from Australia and Palau compared data collected by professional dive guides in Palau with acoustic telemetry data from tagged sharks at the same sites, and found the dive guides’ data was not only equally accurate, but included valuable additional data that the telemetry couldn’t collect.

“Citizen science has been commonly used as a way of collecting data for science but there has been some controversy in terms of how is the quality of this data, mainly because we didn’t know until now how reliable the observations by divers could be,” says lead author Gabriel Vianna, a marine scientist at the University of Western Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine Science .

“As we have been doing a lot of telemetry study in Palau to look at the movement patterns of sharks, we have a few sharks tagged in areas where divers are also interacting with sharks, [and] we saw a very good opportunity to analyse and compare data sets.”

The dive guides provided a count of sharks spotted, as well as species, depth, current strength, water temperature, and the number of tourist divers in the group.

Altogether 62 guides recorded information from 2360 dives at 52 dive sites over five years.

The results from the divers and the telemetry were remarkably in agreement in terms of shark counts, but the additional information on current strength and water temperature from the dive guides proved especially valuable, showing that the sharks were present in greater numbers when the current was stronger and when the water was colder. Read more.

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