A collaborative community-based habitat monitoring program
Building scientific knowledge and empowering local groups
Seagrass Watch is an award winning, community-based, habitat assessment program established in Australia in 1998 (AMCS 2007; McKenzie et al. 2001). Seagrass Watch functions as a partnership between local conservation groups, industry, government and various other communities of interest (Finn et al. 2010). The key aim is to raise awareness of the condition and trend of near-shore seagrass ecosystems and provide an early warning for major coastal environmental changes (Finn et al. 2010). This case study relates to the Seagrass Watch program operating in South-east Queensland.
The declining condition and loss of sea grasses from natural and anthropogenic causes was a key driver for Seagrass Watch in South-east Queensland (Finn et al. 2010). In particular, increasing intensity of human activity in coastal regions and associated impacts on water quality entering estuarine systems is a critical factor in this decline and loss (McKenzie et al. 2001). The combination of limited government resources for extensive seagrass monitoring and pressure from coastal communities concerned about the condition and loss of seagrass was an important factor in the establishment of the Seagrass Watch in the region (McKenzie et al. 2001).
Seagrass Watch was developed initially through the Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QDPI), establishing and co-ordinating several steering groups to capture local enthusiasm. The steering groups included representatives from local community organisations, Queensland Parks & Wildlife Services (Environment Protection Authority) and the QDPI. This led to early support through the first round of Natural Heritage Trust funding (NHT1). Key monitoring areas (representing a particular management focus) were identified jointly by community groups and QDPI, with community and industry groups also providing input into initial planning and ongoing monitoring (McKenzie et al. 2001).
The monitoring program utilises simple, but scientifically rigorous methods, with comprehensive training provided for volunteers. A website ensures the data is freely available to all Management agencies (Finn et al. 2010). Among other uses, data from Seagrass Watch is used by the SEQ Healthy Waterways partnership in their Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program, supplementing water quality data (Finn et al. 2010).
A wide range of associated activities are also used to engage community volunteers. For example, a seminar series on local wildlife and environmental processes involved with seagrass habitat and night time spotlighting expeditions that increase the natural history skills of participants (Finn et al. 2010).
Ongoing funding is supplied largely through SEQ Catchments, a regional natural resource management body. Additional funding is provided by the Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program, part of the SEQ Healthy Waterway Partnership, as well as industry representatives and a private trust. In-kind support is also made available through Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, commercial supporters and various non-government organisations (Finn et al. 2010).
Key Lessons for Adaptive Learning
Learning outcomes emerging from the Seagrass Watch program include:
- Improved monitoring capacity of coastal issues and resources that is accessible to both resource managers and the community.
- Enhanced communication pathways between government agencies and local communities.
- Improved collaboration between state government agencies in developing information for use in management plans and associated evaluation.
- Integrated community engagement including industry and commercial interests, educational facilities, NGO’s and community groups.
- Community capacity and ownership building through training, experiential learning and collaboration with a range of organisations.
Seagrass Watch is an innovative and proactive community-based approach that demonstrates the value of community input in the production and application of scientific data. It also provides a mechanism by which communities can directly influence local planning and decision-making.
AMCS. 2007. Australian Marine Conservation Society Annual Report-2007, 24pp. http://www.marineconservation.org.au/pdf/annual_re ports/AnnualReport2007.pdf (accessed on 13 December 2010).
Finn, P.G., N.S. Udy, S.J. Baltais, K. Price, and L. Coles. 2010.Assessing the quality of seagrass data collected by community volunteers in Moreton Bay Marine Park, Australia, Environmental Conservation, 37: 83-89
McKenzie, L.J., S.J. Campbell, C.A. Roder, J.S. Bité, and R.G.Coles. 2001. Local Eyes: Global Wise, International. Seagrass-Watch Volunteers Forum, Hervey Bay. 12th-15th October 2001. Proceedings of the 1st,International Seagrass-Watch volunteers Forum 85pp.
Professor Tim Smith
Director Sustainability Research Centre University of the Sunshine Coast
Maroochydore QLD 4558
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