On Queensland's tropical coastline, secondary school students turned citizen scientists are advancing research to safeguard Australia's tidal wetlands.
Each year, The George Alexander Foundation supports fellowships for secondary school students in years 10-12 to participate in Earthwatch Australia Student Challenge expeditions: weeklong environmental science fieldwork experiences.
The program sees fellows work alongside qualified scientists on genuine research projects and seeks to connect students with the natural world, improve participation in secondary school science and, ultimately, encourage participants to pursue careers and tertiary qualifications in the environmental sciences. Beyond this, the data collected by these burgeoning citizen scientists contributes to research into Australia's complex environmental challenges.
In September 2023, the Foundation's Chief Executive Officer Paul Conroy, and Program Manager Mairead Phillips travelled to Gladstone, Queensland, joining 12 fellows on the Student Challenge Expedition Protecting the Reef's Coastal Frontier, led by mangrove ecologist and Earthwatch Australia’s Wetlands Program Manager, Jock Mackenzie.
Together, they learnt about mangrove and saltmarsh habitats and the urgent need to monitor and protect Australia’s tidal wetlands.
Likened to the kidneys of the coast, mangroves provide essential ecosystem services. Their benefits include:
- Shoreline protection against erosion, storms, and flooding.
- Habitat for wildlife, including breeding and nursery grounds for marine wildlife.
- Water filtration, protecting the water quality of seagrass habitats and coral reefs.
- Capturing and stockpiling carbon (sequestration), mitigating carbon emissions produced from human activities.
Unfortunately, climate change and human activity threaten the health of mangrove habitats, and on-the-ground monitoring is needed to understand their impacts.
Enter our Student Challenge fellows. Throughout the expedition, fellows completed fieldwork activities developed by MangroveWatch, a citizen science mangrove monitoring program, collecting data on various indicators of the habitat's health.
Activities included surveying plant and wildlife biodiversity, crab activity, shoreline habitat condition, and the presence of macro and microplastics.