Photographs are a permanent record of the past and, as such, they can document environmental changes through time. Opportunistic observations by citizens, such as photographs of flora and fauna shared online, are growing exponentially and are likely to continue.
Despite the potential and growth of this data source, it's currently rarely utilised in ecological research due to limited understanding of how to best use unstructured data.
This first aim of this project to determine whether opportunistic recreational dive photographs can be used to accurately describe the species composition of dive sites, and to determine the quantity of photographs and divers required to obtain representative samples of dive sites. To do this, current photographs gathered from recreational divers will be compared to data from standard scientific surveys. This stage will assess potential bias associated with the use of images gathered outside a standard scientific framework. This will include quantifying the effect of diver preferences (e.g. colourful vs plain fish) and how much inter-diver variability exists in terms of the data obtained.
The second stage of the project is to gather old photographs from the personal collections of recreational divers and use these to assess how dive sites have changed through time due to human use pressures and broadscale environmental change. Changes to be investigated include the arrival of new species such as tropical fish, the increased prevalence of species such as pests and the loss of taxa such as habitat forming kelp.