Oxford-based penguinologist Tom Hart created Penguin Watch as a new strategy for data collection in remote and hostile areas like Antarctica. The project involves monitoring penguins via time-lapse cameras that record the daily and yearly lives of penguins at colonies around the Southern Ocean. Find out why the efforts of Penguin Watch are crucial to Antarctic conservation, and how you can participate in the project as a citizen scientist.
Why is penguin conservation so important?
Penguin conservation is so important because 12 out of 18 species of penguin, and seabirds in general, are in decline. At the moment, we see penguin abundances changing – increasing in some places and declining in others. As predators, any variations in their populations may represent larger changes to the dynamic Antarctic ecosystem.
What is your role at Penguin Watch?
I started the project of setting up cameras around the Southern Ocean. However, it should be noted that I have lots of great collaborators, such as the Australian Antarctic Division who were already using cameras. Since the initial set up, Zoouniverse has been amazing in developing Penguin Watch – after all, this is something they have done before for things like Galaxy Zoo.
What are the project goals?
Images provide the ability to answer a range of questions depending on the location, study species, and size of the colony. Because of the harsh Antarctic environment, it makes monitoring wildlife difficult. By creating an expansive monitoring network, we can aim to determine changes in the timing of breeding populations over time, compare nest survival rates between populations, reveal the rate of predation on chicks at each site, etc.
How does the public get involved?
Essentially, we have thousands of images, and we need to turn those images into usable data to inform policy. It is incredibly easy for the public to get involved – you can visit our site, and you’ll find a two-minute tutorial showing you what to do. If you get stuck, there is online support and a FAQ section.
Image by David Merron