REGROWTH: The ecosystem surrounding Rappville is slowly starting to recover following the October bushfire which devastated the area. Photo: Susanna Freymark
REGROWTH: The ecosystem surrounding Rappville is slowly starting to recover following the October bushfire which devastated the area. Photo: Susanna Freymark

Free app helping to track bushfire recovery

YOU can help scientists track the recovery of habitats destroyed by bushfire – all with a free mobile app.

UNSW Sydney researchers have urged residents of bushfire-affected region to use their mobile phones to monitor the recovery of bushfire-affected plants and animals.

A UNSW Sydney spokeswoman said anyone in fire-affected areas of Australia can participate in the Environment Recovery Project which will inform future research, no matter their scientific knowledge or camera skills.

She said all people need to do is download the mobile app – available via the global citizen science iNaturalist website – take a photo of a burnt tree, for example, and upload the image to the app.

UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science PhD candidate Casey Kirchhoff founded the Environment Recovery Project after the Morton bushfire destroyed her Wingello home last month.

Mrs Kirchhoff said her passion for the environment and natural curiosity inspired her to start tracking the post-fire recovery of her surrounding environment.

“I realised I was probably among a handful of scientists collecting this information,” she said.

“So, I thought, why not ask citizen scientists to share their photos? The bushfires have burnt such a large area; it’s impossible to properly survey it with our current resources.”

Mrs Kirchhoff said the more observations scientists can collect “the more we will know about the impact of the fires on our environment”.

“We also need hope when so many of us have lost so much – while we rebuild our home, I look forward to seeing the recovery of the bush with the help of citizen scientists,” she said.

“This is another way people can contribute to post-bushfire efforts.”

Mrs Kirchhoff started using the iNaturalist app a couple of days after the bushfire razed her house and found fledgling life in the charred landscape.

“I took photos of new shoots on ferns and grass trees, wombats in their burrows, glossy black and gang gang cockatoos in full flight, and brilliant orange fungi dotting the woodland floor,” she said.

“Seeing these things gave me hope, but they also highlight the importance of monitoring the recovery of our biodiversity in the wake of the fires.”

Mrs Kirchhoff said the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science team aims to build a complete picture of when, where and how Australia’s ecosystems bounce back from these fires.

“Download the iNaturalist app, have a look through burnt bushland and take a photo of a plant, animal or fungus and upload it to the Environment Recovery Project,” she said.

“If you can identify the species do so, but even if you can’t, the photos are still valuable because other people will be able to help. The app will read the image location and allow researchers to identify the particular animal or plant.”

However Mrs Kirchhoff said people should only walk through a bushfire-affected area if it was safe to do so.

“It would be amazing if thousands of citizen scientists uploaded their images – we look forward to watching the bush recover together.”



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