A NEW citizen science project will be launched next month to help researchers assess how our marine ecosystems are changing in response to ocean warming.
Currently each year over three million Australian’s go fishing, diving and boating and scientists want to enlist their help to collect valuable data for the RangeExtension Database and Mapping Project.
Redmap invites recreational and commercial fishers, scuba divers, boaters and scientists in Western Australia to spot, log and map any uncommon marine species not usually seen in their particular coastal areas.
Some species may be new to Western Australia, some may be shifting or extending their range and the presence of others may vary seasonally – but over time the data collected will provide a valuable record of what marine species are on the move.
Originally Redmap started as a pilot project in Tasmania in 2009 but its Australian adoption was prompted by a growing concern within the scientific community over warming ocean temperatures and the effect on our marine life.
Most parts of the Australian coast have warmed at over twice the global average and even faster in the south-western and south-eastern regions.
According to a WA Department of Fisheries report water temperatures off the south-western coast of Western Australia rose to unprecedented levels during February and March 2011 in what has been termed a ‘marine heatwave.’
While surface temperatures were more than 3°C above the long term monthly average, over an extended area in February last year, the temperature in some localised areas in coastal waters exceeded the long term monthly average.
They rose by 5°C for periods of a day or two in late February, early March.
This heat wave, which coincided with an extremely strong La Nina event and a record strength Leeuwin Current, is viewed as a major temperature anomaly superimposed on the underlying long-term ocean warming trend.
While sudden changes in water temperature have been recorded in waters off the WA coast in the past, there have been no previous records of such strongly elevated temperatures. These unusually high water temperatures resulted in a series of fish kills and a range of ‘sub-lethal’ effects, which can have either short or long-term implications.
The fisheries research report underlined the importance of the anecdotal information collected by the public both during and directly after the passage of the heatwave.
“As results from ongoing research and monitoring programs become available, a more comprehensive and considered view of the effects will be forthcoming in theform of peer-reviewed journal papers,” the report says.
WA Department of Fisheries principal research scientist Dr Gary Jackson says Redmap will gather data on marine sightings from all around Australia. "At this stage this national project will run for around two years before it isreviewed and the patterns in species movements identified and interpreted," he says.
For moreinformation go to: www.redmap.org.au