Citizen Science – Ten Thousand Eyes on South Georgia
With such a large and unpopulated island like South Georgia, it is the visitors who play a crucial role in alerting authorities to potential non-native species, and GSGSSI is interested in maximising this potential for visitors to play an intrinsic part of our monitoring and management of the island. A couple of examples this season have highlighted how visitors (now surpassing 10k per annum in number) can be our eyes on the ground.
A new plant species was found near Stromness this season, as part of a citizen science ‘bioblitz’. The plant belongs to the Gunnera genus but has yet to be identified further. We are still not sure if it’s a non-native species which has recently arrived, or a new record for a native species which has until now gone undetected. It is hoped that DNA analysis and further research might help answer these questions.
Another example was a potential rodent sighting by a cruise ship passenger. The visitor glimpsed what they thought could have been a rodent during a landing on Prion Island. Though they only saw it for a brief moment, the way it scurried made them think it could have been a rodent, but it was soon lost amongst the tussac grass.
GSGSSI take all sightings and reports seriously, and act according to our rodent incursion plan. In this case a thorough inspection of the area revealed no signs of rodent activity, but to be sure a number of passive rodent monitoring devices were deployed on Prion Island, including a smorgasbord of toxic and non-toxic baits and rodent attractants. At the end of the monitoring period, GSGSSI re-visited Prion Island and retrieved the devices. It was a great outcome that none of the devices bore any signs of rodent activity, and we are confident that the sighting was a case of mistaken identity. GSGSSI have received many similar mistaken reports in the past, which with the use of infra-red cameras, have been attributed to Pintail ducklings which move quickly through the tussac grass and can easily be mistaken for a rat.
These records are a fantastic illustration of how citizen science can be valuable in monitoring South Georgia’s flora and fauna. GSGSSI welcomes and encourages visitors to report potential sightings of rodents and other non-native species. We understand that even the most experienced people may be mistaken, but in the event of a sighting being validated, a rapid response increases our chances of successfully dealing with the incursion.