Community monitoring

Box 4.9 Case study: Bungala 2000

The Southern Fleurieu Landcare have been working on the conservation and restoration of the over-cleared farmlands of the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges for a decade. Erosion control measures, revegetation, the establishment of riverine vegetation corridors, and the promotion of more sustainable land management practices should begin to result in a lower sediment and nutrient load being delivered to the coastal waters and small estuaries of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Recent work – the Bungala 2000 project may clarify this. The Landcare work was extended in 1996 by volunteer scuba dive club members to monitor nearshore turbidity levels, seagrass health, and nutrient levels at the mouths of four of the catchments. Technical training has been provided by state government marine scientists (South Australian Research and Development Institute), and funding by Commonwealth grant. The combination of community action, state expertise, and seed funding is a potent force in raising awareness. It is hoped that the knowledge gained from monitoring and the community involvement will help drive future management. By monitoring turbidity and its effects near the mouths of the catchments, the Bungala 2000 group can establish a baseline picture of what is happening now, and then in the future show how things are changing (pers. comm. Alistair Christie, Normanville Landcare, South Australia, April 1998).

Community environmental groups have a strong focus on the changes going on around them. Everyone knows that change is going on, and often older members of the community report very considerable environmental changes over time periods of the order of decades. The national survey of community environmental monitoring groups by the Australian Conservation Foundation (Alexandra et al. 1996) illustrated the significant contribution such groups can make on a local scale. Local planning and education were the dominant uses. 'If monitoring and reporting are community driven, a sense of ownership is engendered, local knowledge is utilised, and a vast reservoir of untapped expertise and enthusiasm is released for the betterment of the environment.' (Alexandra et al. 1996, p. 17). The focus on issues of local concern, driving management, could be vital: 'We had 30 years of monthly water quality records from the government, but we weren't getting the information we needed for catchment management until we got the farmers involved' (Alexandra et al. 1996).

The national survey of community environmental monitoring groups showed that about 70% of the groups used standard methods of measurement, that the majority stored data on computer files, and that about a third of the groups used geographic information systems to produce customised maps.

Box 4.10 Case study: The Queensland Seagrass-Watch monitoring program

More than 300 volunteers have been involved in monitoring seagrass health in Hervey Bay, the Great Sandy Straits and the Whitsunday Region. The program has been developed by the Queensland Department of Primary Industry (QDP1), the CRC for Reef Research, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and community groups. A Coasts and Clean Seas (Natural Heritage Trust) grant supports the program. "Seagrass-Watch aims to raise awareness on the condition and trend of nearshore seagrasses throughout Queensland, and to provide an early warning of major changes in seagrass abundance, distribution and species composition. Community groups and agencies were involved in the selection of monitoring areas, such as key Dugong feeding areas and places of high catchment input. The program is seen as scientifically credible through the training of volunteers in the use of rigorous monitoring techniques, including measurement at fixed sites of percentage seagrass cover, seagrass canopy height, seagrass species composition, algal cover and epiphyte cover. Immediate feedback is provided to observers on the information submitted from these observations. Data is entered in the QDPl's Seagrass-Watch database and G1S mapping systems.

Considerable effort is put into communication between all groups and agencies involved in this scheme, including a regular newsletter. A training manual and video have been developed. Communication to the wider community is achieved through the media, exhibitions and workshops.

To date the program has provided information on seagrass resources valuable to the management of fisheries, Dugongs and turtles. The data has been used in management plan development on dredging proposals, and the assessment of World Heritage Areas of the Great Sandy Region.

Source: Campbell 2000

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