Thinking green, by Caitlin

Thoughts and ideas on environmental topics from Caitlin Howlett, editor of Green Lifestyle.

Citizen eco-science

landcare

Volunteer working with a scientist at Lilydale Sanctuary in Victoria.

possum

The secret life of nocturnal animals: this brush-tailed possum was captured on camera at 11:25pm on August 20 as part of the Earthwatch 'Bandicoots on the brink' project.

Bandicoots

Can you see the bandicoot? If you can, you'd make a great volunteer for the Earthwatch 'Bandicoots on the brink' conservation team.

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We must look crazy. Ten of us, walking in the rain, brushing past shrubs to get to secluded spots that have been laced with sardines. But it's all in the name of science; we've volunteered to become scientists for a day.

"We're looking for evidence of feral animals - such as foxes, rabbits and cats – as they are serious threats to bandicoots." says Dr Nelika Hughes of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

“We’ll be using infra-red cameras to film the night-time activities of these introduced species, and if we’re lucky, we might see some footage of the endangered bandicoot as well.”

Nelika shows us to the site where a few weeks ago she set up a potent ball of smelly fish in front of the two motion-sensor triggered cameras. We put the cameras into our backpacks (we'll set up more camera traps later in the day) and head back to the comfort of the lab to observe and log the secret life of Sydney's wildlife. It's a thrill walking back holding the SD card knowing that the footage you're about to watch has never been seen before. I wonder what we're going to see?

Long-nosed bandicoots were once common throughout the Sydney area, but from the 1960s, their numbers have been declining dramatically due to urban development and introduced predators. They live around dense shrubby habitats which help them to hide from predators.

"Bandicoots have evolved with predators where the best defense mechanism is often to stay very still until the danger passes. But this makes them easy prey for introduced pests such as cats and foxes," says Nelika.

Our video footage includes lots and lots of rabbits, and quite a few bandicoots too! We don't see any cats or foxes, although Nelika says she's seen plenty of both stray and domestic cats around these areas. As expected, we get some brush and ring-tailed possums, which fortunately pose no threat to the bandicoots. We also snapped a few inquisitive kids and even a crow during the daytime.

Conservation groups such as Earthwatch are helping gather more knowledge on the threats facing our native species, but they need help in gathering important scientific data. They've enlisted the help of everyday citizens as omnipotent eyes and ears for conservation, in the hopes of expanding the number of 'citizen scientists'.

Executive Director of Earthwatch Australia, Richard Gilmore, says that "scientists have an urgent need for large-scale data gathering to assess how biological systems are responding to climate change".

Earthwatch have teamed up with Landcare Australia to create ClimateWatch, an online community of citizen scientists gathering national information about climate change. The free activity is launched next week as part of National Landcare Week.

"All around Australia, Landcare groups and their volunteers are already making observations about species and animals habitats and the impact of climate change in their local communities," says Heather Campbell, CEO of Landcare Australia.

"This September we are appealing to all Australians to get their hands dirty and volunteer to become citizen scientists."

To get involved in ClimateWatch, visit the website: www.climatewatch.org.au. Also, check out some of the Landcare events happening in your local area at www.landcareonline.com.au.

Bandicoots on the brink; North Head, Manly, Sydney
You can book in to become a bandicoot conservation scientist for a day by calling Earthwatch on (03) 9682 6828 or email earth@earthwatch.org.au. The one-day session costs $49 and is on every Thursday from this week (9 September) until 4 November, PLUS book in early for the one popular weekend session on Saturday 9 October, 2010.