Monitoring, quietly

Core sampling in Karitane estuary
Monitoring carried out by community groups as a part of their restoration projects is an activity that just doesn’t receive a lot of attention.

Might this change if proposed citizen science programs embrace these quiet activities that groups do month by month, year by year? Almost all of the growing media around citizen science in New Zealand centres on the ‘classic’ model, where studies are initiated and lead by scientists. These studies for example, on evolution and climate change require data at scales (geographic and human-resource wise) unachievable by anyone other than willing members of the public who work for free. The results are impressive, and yes, these programs have great media appeal.

A lot of community groups throughout New Zealand are doing some form of science-based monitoring – at least 140 that I’m aware of through my research. What’s interesting is that so few are currently using ‘monitoring toolkits’ such as FORMAK (Forest Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit), SHMAK, WETMAK (Streams and wetlands respectively) – after all, these kits were specifically designed for community use.

Part of the failing I believe, lies in a support structure that currently just provides funding for the first few steps, i.e., developing a toolkit based on good science and then running a series of training workshops. That’s been the model so far and it’s not working that well. These are the gaps that spring to mind: New groups likely need good mentoring, a “go to” person, in addition to training; Refresher courses and auditing for established groups would ensure they’re still collecting data in the right way and ending up with useable results; Ongoing assistance with analysis and translation into restoration management decisions is another need; We’re still lacking a central repository for data so that groups and possibly others can access findings.

If we want to take the monitoring that groups are doing seriously and promote monitoring as an a important activity to other groups, then we need to look at the bigger picture and start filling in the gaps.

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