FedUni wins funding to create national water quality survey

SCIENTISTS: Brown Hill preschoolers Heath, Nate, Jeremiah and Chariss find stoneflies and mayflies as they survey water bugs and insects in the Yarrowee River with Waterwatch coordinator Deidre Murphy. Picture: Michelle Smith
SCIENTISTS: Brown Hill preschoolers Heath, Nate, Jeremiah and Chariss find stoneflies and mayflies as they survey water bugs and insects in the Yarrowee River with Waterwatch coordinator Deidre Murphy. Picture: Michelle Smith

Scientists can come in all shapes and sizes: even preschoolers are getting into the supply of scientific data that will make a difference to environmental management policy.

An army of citizen scientists will be recruited to be part of a national Federation University project to monitor the health of streams and waterways.

Federation University Australia’s Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation (CeRDI) and partners Waterwatch, Corangamite CMA, Envirocomm Connections and The Waterbug Company, have been awarded federal government funding to develop the National WaterbugBlitz: citizens assessing Australian waterways.

The project will build data about waterbugs (aquatic invertebrates), a key indicator of river health, to assess the state and condition of Australia’s waterways.

“The sheer scale of monitoring across Australian waterways by governments and researchers a formidable task, so we’re looking to local citizen scientists to join in the task on an annual basis,” said Federation University project leader Dr Birgita Hansen.

Waterwatch coordinator Deidre Murphy said some types of waterbugs, particularly mayflies, were only present in good water quality conditions.

Ms Murphy and her team of tiny scientists at the Yarrowee River at Brown Hill found stoneflies and mayflies, indicating the flowing water offers a healthy environment.

The equipment needed is basic – a shallow tray, plastic spoons, ice cube tray and magnifying glass.

”Water bugs are seen as a really useful way to get water quality information and at the same time engage the community and provide a great education opportunity,” Ms Murphy said.

The National WaterbugBlitz will allow communities to engage with nature, build their skills and learn about freshwater biodiversity while participating in assessing our nation’s waterway health.

“Waterbug experts have develop rapid methods that non-scientists or people with minimal knowledge can use to measure water health,” Ms Hansen said.

The use of citizen scientists to collect the data is significant for two reasons: to help residents engage with their local waterways through education programs and raise issues about river water, and to gather enough meaningful data to make decisions about the nation’s waterways.

A trial will be held this summer, with two full National WaterbugBlitz events scheduled in October 2018 and 2019.

Participants will log their findings via the Waterbug App, which will transfer data to a Waterbug website and offer a rapid assessment of the health of that waterway. www.vic.waterwatch.org.au