SeaKeys launch

Get involved with the SeaKeys project

SeaKeys launch
SeaKeys launch

Last week we attended the launch of SeaKeys, a massive collaboration between a wide range of organisations (including DAFF, the Department of Environmental Affairs, and SURG, the Southern Underwater Research Group that has spawned such classics as A Field Guide to the Marine Animals of the Cape Peninsula, Nudibranchs of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay, and Coastal Fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay). I digress. SeaKeys is designed to increase and collect together information about the marine biodiversity of South Africa. There’s a lot of information out there, but it isn’t centralised and the people who are making discoveries (such as South African dive operator Peter Timm at Triton Dive Lodge in Sodwana!) haven’t all been plugged into  the same network.

This is a citizen science project in the best sense. Four web-based atlases, each focusing on a particular type of marine life, are being established, with contributions from researchers, students, and people like you and me – mostly recreational divers, who get to see firsthand what lives underwater. The four atlases are:

The primary platforms on which these observations will be collected are iSpot (we reported our Western leopard toads there when we moved to the South Peninsula in 2012), SAJellyWatch, and EchinoMap.

There is also a section of the database for historical photographs of fishing activities prior to 1970. This will assist in establishing a baseline from which changes (that we have wrought, mostly) in the abundance and distribution of fish species can be measured. This part of the project is called FisHistory, and even if you don’t have any old photos of your dad holding a two metre long tuna and wearing a mullet and satin hotpants, you can still take a look at the contributions from others.

Starting the conversation in the Whale Well
Starting the conversation in the Whale Well

As was pointed out several times during the evening, the aim of the initiative is to “start a conversation” between the widely disparate users of our oceans in order to get a better picture of what’s down there, how it is threatened, and how it is changing. It’s really exciting that recreational divers can assist with this project, and make ourselves useful.

I am excited to see that iSpot is already buzzing with activity from OMSAC members! iSpot is probably the best place for you to get going, submitting your underwater photos of marine life. You need to provide the location at which the photo was taken (which can be hidden if it’s your super secret reef with a super secret waypoint), and take a stab at identifying the creature – but you don’t have to know what it is. If you don’t know what your creature is, other users of the system will help with identification. If you’re not into photography but are interested in species identification, you can also contribute by identifying other users’ contributions. For more about how iSpot works, visit their help pages.

Are you keen to do more citizen science in Cape Town? Check out Spot the Sevengill Cowshark on facebook.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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