Building awareness for Australia’s waterways

In partnership with Cesar, Melbourne Water and Google Australia, Plural developed a community-based web and mobile application that allows users to submit platypus sightings to aiding awareness and further ecological research.

How might we draw upon citizen science to better understand the distribution and occurrence of platypus that is essential to develop effective conservation strategies with waterway managers?

Challenge

Platypus and their habitat are vulnerable to a variety of natural and man-made threats that are increasing with climate change and population growth. Research on platypus numbers and distribution is being stepped up as science tries new ways to document this elusive Australian species. Such data is used to help compare morphological differences that may exist between populations. Through stakeholder interviews, we soon recognised that the only systematic way to help determine if platypus occur in a stream is via netting. This technique not only causes stress on the animal but is highly limited to trained ecologist teams. In order to collate broader data sets, we had to recruit more resources to contribute to platypus sightings. A mobile application was prototyped as a response to involve public data entry.

And, whilst the amount of quality information about dementia has dramatically increased in the past number of years, access to this information is often delivered through poor user experiences and contingent on efficient internet and mobile network access as which often excludes rural parts of Australia. Even in smaller townships, the availability of medical facilities and mental health support services is also more widely dispersed when compared to urban centres.

Change

The result has been platypusSPOT; A citizen science project that offers users an opportunity to contribute to a community-driven database on platypus sightings.

“No-one knows their area like a local, so we’re calling on the community to become citizen scientists and help us find out more about this amazing animal.”

— Josh Griffiths, Platypus Ecologist

Thanks to generous support from Google Australia, platypusSPOT was recently developed into a mobile phone app (iOS and Android) and launched at Taronga Zoo. The app uses your phone’s GPS to automatically record the location, making it even easier for the community to log platypus sightings. With a few taps, users can take a photo, add some notes about habitat or behaviour, and submit their sighting to an online database as well as interact with other ‘platypusSPOTers’.

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