05 Nov 2013
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Students help build record of NZ nature

By Rebecca Wood

New Zealand citizen science website NatureWatch NZ is celebrating more than a year of people reporting a staggering variety of natural history discoveries.

Since it launched in August 2012, replacing a clunky 2006 predecessor, NatureWatch NZ has amassed over 32,343 records made by more than 540 observers, including students.

NatureWatch NZ is dedicated to building a record of nature in New Zealand. It lets anyone add an observation of anything natural they've spotted anywhere, in the wild or the town, in the air, on land, or in the water. Observations with photos can then be identified and verified by a network of experienced amateur and professional experts involved in the project.

The observations are building a vast storehouse of useful information about all species in the New Zealand environment, from birds to plants to insects to fungi. With the website getting around 100,000 page views per month, it’s becoming one of the most popular environmental science sites in New Zealand.

Ecologist Colin Meurk says the website has created one of the most useful research tools he's seen.

"NatureWatch NZ is more than just a website - it's a veritable treasure trove of fascinating, bizarre and surprising truths about our country. It draws people into the social medium aspect, making it fun to satisfy our natural curiosity. It combines our love of nature and technology."

Jon Sullivan, Lincoln University ecologist, used NatureWatch NZ in Lincoln’s biological diversity course this year.

“Until now, nothing our students saw in their assignments was kept. With NatureWatch NZ, our students put all their observations online where their identifications are verified or corrected. Our students have easily added more observations to the internet of local animals and plants than everyone else in the last twenty years combined. Now we can really start to watch how nature is changing.”

NatureWatch NZ is run by the New Zealand Bio-Recording Network Trust, a charitable trust dedicated to recording the natural history of New Zealand, with funding from the New Zealand government and other supporters.

The Trust is now trialling the use of NatureWatch NZ in schools, where it can make every teacher a biodiversity expert.

To see the website in action, please visit www.naturewatch.org.nz

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