Wednesday, 03 April 2013

Technology tracks valuable environmental data

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smartphone flowerAboriginal employees are asked to monitor and record four aspects of data including track marks of traditional game and threatened and invasive species of fauna, fire, and water monitoring. Image: Rafe BlandfordTRADITIONAL owners are using a unique software program that collects environmental and cultural data to contribute to the land management and conservation of the desert rangelands areas in WA.

CyberTracker is loaded onto a hand held computer or smart phone and uses GPS, camera and voice recording functions.

Users are required to input data with the assistance of photographs, icons and Aboriginal languages.

Since 2010, the software has been used as part of the Australian government supported initiatives, Caring for our Country and Working on Country, which work to protect the environment and provide employment for Aboriginal people.

Desert Rangelands Conservation Officer Alison McGilvray says CyberTracker is being used in six native title areas of the Pilbara, Goldfields and Kimberley which cover approximately 32 million hectares.

“Caring for our Country field coordinators and Aboriginal staff go into these areas together to collect the data,” Ms McGilvray says.

“The older Aboriginal people know the country so well they can share their knowledge with the younger generation and teach them how to identify changes in the landscape.”

“We are able to harness the skills of the traditional owners with the technology of the CyberTracker,” she says.

“The aim of this project is exactly this—to bring both ways of collecting data together and use it for land management purposes.”

Aboriginal employees are asked to monitor and record four aspects of data; track marks of traditional game and threatened and invasive species of fauna; fire; water monitoring (specifically what impact camels have on the area); and general points of interest, including cultural heritage and weed infestations.

After this data is collected it is downloaded onto a centralised computer where it is stored and available for analysis.

“We create maps and reports to show the communities how things are improving or where we need to do some work,” Ms McGilvray says.

“The success of the CyberTracker very much depends on what is done with the information, but the traditional owners see value in the process—their pride and confidence in collecting the data has grown immeasurably.”

The Caring for Country project is due to finish in June.

“We are looking at ways of extending the work so valuable information can continue to be collected by the Aboriginal people of these areas.”

CyberTracker is also being widely used in other parts of Australia and around the world to monitor many aspects of the environment.

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