Redmap: fishes-out-of-water tell climate change stories

A marine species mapping project using photographs taken by citizen scientists is generating its own headlines, with each sighting telling a new, rich and interesting story. This Tasmanian-based project was recently launched nationally from Townsville, Queensland.

A foxfish, Bodianus frenchii

Bodianus frenchii (foxfish) sighted 1000 km farther south than previously recorded

“One of the things I love about Redmap is that each time we report a sighting we are reinforcing the same message that the climate is changing, but with a new and visually interesting story to tell,” says Gretta Pecl, Redmap founder and senior research fellow at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.

The Range Extension Database and Mapping or ‘Redmap‘ project uses photographs submitted by members of the public­­ ­- typically divers and commercial or recreational fishers – and verified by marine biologists. These photographs and their locations identify a ‘sighting’ of a species. They are mapped by the Redmap team and communicate the changing distributions of marine species as the oceans warm. The project has become a powerful climate change communication tool.

“The public don’t get scientists’ climate change modelling. But Redmap’s photographs make climate information more acceptable and accessible. People understand the simple idea that fish that prefer warmer waters might move farther south if the oceans are warming,” says Gretta.

While abstract concepts of climate change and ocean warming may not resonate with broader audiences, things like sightings of whale sharks as far south as Perth capture public attention and interest.

Gretta says the involvement of citizen scientists enables the project to cover a huge area without the cost and difficulty of putting dozens of researchers to field. This provides an early indication of the species distributions that may be changing, helping to identify and prioritise research projects.

Angler John Marsh finds a rare magpie ray

Angler John Marsh finds a rare magpie ray

The inspiration for Redmap came from a research project into the climate change risk perceptions of rock lobster fishers in Tasmania. Nearly 80 per cent of the fishers didn’t think climate change was an issue or relevant to them, yet every single one of them had observed changes to the marine environment in recent decades. Most of those were consistent with climate change predictions.

“The fishers had seen the changes but weren’t associating them with climate change,” says Gretta. “With Redmap, I wanted to provide a more structured way of recording observations and reflect them back to them. They’re more accepting of the science partly because they’ve been personally involved in it.”

Redmap has produced a report card for Tasmania on changes to the distributions of marine species observed – important information for fishers, fisheries and ecologists alike.

An Inspiring Australia grant is helping Gretta and her team roll out Redmap nationally, supporting events and tailored materials for locations around the country. The program will shortly release a series of videos and an iPhone app.

Visit redmap.org.au

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