Smile, you’re on candid camera
The Western Shield Camera Watch project is bringing together citizen scientists from around the world to help control pests and conserve native mammals in Western Australian forests.
Dr Michelle Drew, a zoologist with Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW), says the aim of Western Shield is to manage foxes and feral cats which threaten native wildlife. Running since 1996, Western Shield has since expanded to include Camera Watch.
INTRODUCING CAMERA WATCH
The Camera Watch project was introduced in April 2016 when Michelle, just starting the role, realised there was a huge backlog of images to sort through.
Hosted by Zooniverse, the world’s largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research, it lets anyone be a researcher – you just need an internet connection and a bit of time to spare.
“We have 3,195 volunteers, but at its peak there were up to 5,000,” Michelle said.
“At that time we had 100,000 images that needed identifying.”
It’s easy to get involved. Log into the website where you can look at different images recorded by 90 automated cameras in various forest areas in WA.
HOW DO I KNOW WHAT I’M LOOKING AT?
Don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re looking for – the website provides a step-by-step guide to correctly identifying animals by their shape, size, colour and markings.
Twenty citizen scientists look at each image and the results are run through an algorithm. Michelle then measures this data with stats of her own and develops modelling to show the rate of native mammals versus predators, like foxes and cats.
“It’s an adaptive management approach that lets us adjust our baiting,” she says.
“It doesn’t require a lot of skill, just a good eye.”
VOLUNTEERS ARE KEY
Sponsored by Google and other philanthropic agencies, Zooniverse is fully run by volunteers with glitches ironed out by tech professionals free-of-charge.
Michelle says a “social media cascade” kicked off the project, with Facebook and Twitter used to spread the word.
“There are key volunteers that are extraordinary and the work they do is phenomenal,” says Michelle. “Then you get your ring-ins who classify for five minutes and move on.”
Michelle says one of the strongest volunteers is a school teacher from the Czech Republic.
“I watched the questions she asked and she was doing a great job,” Michelle says.
She’s been promoted to a project moderator role, meaning she’s a point-of-contact for other citizen scientists and keeps an eye on discussions.
Word on the project has continued to grow.
In 2016, Western Shield took home the annual Premier’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management in the Managing the Environment category (shared with City of Bayswater’s Bird Sanctuary).
“It was wonderful to get that recognition,” says Michelle.