Citizen science to aid bushfire recovery

For ANU undergraduate student Alex Horvat, there's no delay in applying university skills to her career. 

Alex is communications advisor at CSIRO, Australia's national science agency. She recently worked on their new project to aid bushfire recovery. 

CSIRO is working with key agencies and community groups to support research underway throughout bushfire impacted areas.

The Citizen Science Bushfire Project Finder website allows members of the public to contribute to projects ranging from air quality, to identifying and confirming animal and plant sightings while maintaining safe social distancing practices.

The initiative is a key outcome from the Bushfire Science Roundtable hosted in January by Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews and comes at a time when Australians are eager to actively participate.

"As we grapple with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, it's important we continue important work to make sure we're prepared for the next bushfire season and this is a fantastic program that allows all Australians to get involved while still observing social distancing," Minister Andrews said.

"Despite the challenges we are facing, the Australian spirit remains strong and it is obvious that our citizens are eager to do their part in the bushfire recovery process."

As well as the devastation and the economic, social and psychological impacts on affected communities, the bushfires took a heavy toll on wildlife and affected water and air quality.

Projects on the website include:

  • Australian Museum project Wildlife Spotter enables users to identify animals in photos taken by camera traps around Australia, assisting researchers in monitoring the effects of bushfires on Australian fauna.
  • South Australia's Department for Environment and Water are using camera traps to monitor the flora and fauna recovery on Kangaroo Island.
  • There are several projects which people can contribute their sightings of plants and wildlife returning to fire affected areas.
  • Some projects also collect information about the intensity of fire impacts, observed fire behaviour, effects on water quality running off of fire grounds, and impacts of the smoke on people's health.

The website was developed in collaboration between CSIRO, the Atlas of Living Australia (a National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy capability) and the Australian Citizen Science Association.

The Project Finder also features a geographic filter enabling users to identify available projects in their area. It can be accessed at www.csiro.au/bushfireprojects.

Alex and other ANU staff were present at the CSIRO Bushfire Forum, where the Project Finder was discussed. 

"It's fantastic to be able to take the skills I've developed through majoring in science communication and put them into practice in real time at work, from stakeholder management, developing communication plans and communicating risk," said Alex. 

"In the time of COVID-19 and the unprecedented bushfires, having the skills to accurately communicate risk, which I've been focusing on in the Science, Risk and Ethics course, has been extremely useful."

More information on the project is on the CSIRO website