The project would investigate the interests, needs and problems of tourism operators and staff of eco-lodges and wildlife parks conducting or assisting in citizen science projects, and the needs and interests of volunteer tourists assisting them.
Time required: 8 hours per week
Duration: 25 weeks
Location: Australia wide, but most can be conducted from campus or students' homes, Australia
Requires face to face contact: Yes
Wildlife Tourism Australia has started a network of tourism operations involved in some form of wildlife research (marine or terrestrial) or conservation monitoring throughout Australia, as many of the project leaders appear to be unaware of each other, and WTA recognises the potential of citizen science through tourism to add to our knowledge of wildlife ecology, behaviour and conservation issues and programs (e.g. habitat restoration). Not all of these employ tourists as assistants. Our aims would be to determine:
• a comprehensive list of such projects across Australia
• what would leaders of these projects find most useful (communication between each other for possible collaboration, tourists volunteering at various levels, assistance from professional researchers with research methods etc.)
• what experience they might have had with volunteer tourists, and what they see as the major benefits and problems
• what are volunteer tourists looking for? (kind of animal/project/habitat etc., length of time for involvement, level of comfort, education ...). What would attract or deter them from individual projects? What experiences (if any) have they had, what were their major problems, what did they most enjoy and what did they find most satisfying?
• Information for a more comprehensive and useful network on the WTA website enabling more project leaders across Australia to get in touch with each other to avoid duplication, complement each others' work, collaborate on projects or inspire new ideas
• A better understanding of the needs of project leaders (whether theoretical or applied ecological and behavioural studies destined for publication or monitoring for local conservation management purposes (e.g. of populations of threatened species, seasonal changes, recovery of fauna and flora after severe fires). This will help to direct the development of the resources section and other aspects of our website.
• A better understanding of the potential for citizen science by travellers, and problems faced by such travellers and by the project leaders employing them. This will help to direct the development of guidelines and other aspects our website.
There is much that we do not know about the ecology, behaviour and conservation needs of our wildlife and the effectiveness of various conservation measures, and a shortage of wildlife researchers and research funds to cope with all investigations needed, especially in the face of increasing threats such as habitat loss, pollution and climate change. Tour operators often travel frequently to places that scientists and postgraduate students would be unlikely to get funding for, and staff of eco-lodges and wildlife parks are often in an excellent position for daily observations and able to either conduct research themselves (many have scientific backgrounds) or assist researchers from universities and other institutions. The effectiveness of their efforts could be considerably enhanced by collaboration with other researchers and assistance by volunteer travellers at various levels (from carrying and washing Elliot traps to recording observations with suitable training)
Students would benefit by increasing their own understanding of wildlife ecology and behaviour, conservation needs and current and potential research and monitoring projects. They could also gain valuable networking experience with people they may later work with or even be employed by across all regions of Australia.
Students who could put time into Googling and other methods of finding out where such research and monitoring projects are happening throughout Australia, to some extent participate (as an educational exercise) in the design of questionnaires, and especially in actually contacting operators and tourists (in person, by phone/Skype or probably mostly by email) and conducting the surveys. Also consulting with ethics department to clear the questionnaires before surveys begin, and access to computer statistical packages.
Guidance in research design, development of and finalizing the questionnaires, analysis and interpretation of results. Discussion of progress and problems throughout (project leader Dr Ronda Green has a PhD in zoology, has conducted ecological research and environmental consultancies and lectured in statistical methods, and has also conducted research for the Sustainable Tourism CRC involving questionnaires). Other WTA members also have relevant experience, and two committee members (Dr Ronda Green and Dr Peter Wood) have recently published a chapter on WTA's research network in a book on scientific tourism.