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Citizen scientists contribute to new global database of marine forests

Cayne Layton, Jorge Assis, Ester SerrĂ£o, 06 Dec 2018.

“All around the world we’re seeing changes in our underwater forests due to climate change and other human-caused disturbances. Some marine forests are sadly disappearing, while others are starting to appear in places where they traditionally haven’t occurred”, says Dr Cayne Layton, a marine ecologist at IMAS and a volunteer regional coordinator for the Marine Forests citizen science project. “And so this project is partnering with citizen scientists from around the world to help record and track these changes, and to provide information that allows us to better protect and manage these important and beautiful environments.”

  • Photo credit: Manu Sanfelix

  • Photo credit: Cayne Layton

All around the world citizen scientists are helping partner-scientists at Marine Forests gain a better understanding about the changing distribution of marine forests and the species that call them home. 

Marine forests of large seaweeds and seagrass meadows thrive from polar to tropical waters around the globe. These spectacular underwater habitats occupy a massive proportion of the world’s coastlines, and even occur beneath the Arctic ice! Much like forests on land, marine forests are complex habitats that provide food and shelter for a whole variety of important plants and animals. In Australia, marine forestsare the foundation of the Great Southern Reef, our cool-water reef system that stretches south from northern NSW all the way to Geraldton in WA (four times the length of the Great Barrier Reef!). Australian marine forests are home to a wide variety of important species including weedy seadragons, calamari, snapper, grey nurse sharks, rock lobsters, and abalone. And did you know that the giant kelp marine forests in Tasmania can grow taller than 40 m, or the size of a ten-storey building?

Sadly, marine forests in many locations around Australia and the world are declining due to climate change, overgrazing, coastal development and pollution. Not only that, but some are now also starting to grow in places they never have before, or the community of plants and animals that live in them are changing and moving – all of which are likely to impact local communities. And this is where a growing number of citizen scientists around the world are helping out.

Get involved!

Getting involved is as simple as uploading a photo of any marine forest or seaweed you see at, and then filling out a few simple details about the location. Your photos might be taken underwater, at your local beach or rock pool, or even out fishing. You don’t even have to be able to identify the seaweed, as Marine Forests has local experts that view and verify the submitted photos. 

Since beginning at the end 2017, the project has already collected more than 4500 observations from more than 250 citizen scientists all around the world. And recently, they have also partnered with Reef Life Survey – another excellent citizen science project – so that Reef Life Survey divers can submit photos and contribute to Marine Forest sightings. 

So please get out there and get snapping and submitting.

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