How can citizen science projects make your holiday more meaningful?

by | Jul 5, 2023 | Conservation Projects, Wildlife News

Citizen Science on the beach at Ningaloo: plant ID (photo: Ingrida Spole)

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Can genuine citizen science projects fulfil a desire to make holidays more meaningful? Recent research has revealed a huge shift towards protecting nature from human pressures. Here’s how travellers can give back to nature


Crested Pigeons at sea: Citizen Science sensation

Our touring boat was 10 kilometres from the nearest land heading north on Exmouth Gulf between North-west Cape and the Muiron Islands in Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, Western Australia.

Then this happened…….

“Flock of 6 Crested pigeons…” I excitedly punched into my phone, then added — for extra emphasis: “Really” and sent the message to Echidna Walkabout’s base. I also sent a map location…..in the middle of the ocean.

To anyone who knows the erratic flight pattern of Crested Pigeons this is an extraordinary piece of information. They are a bird that flaps fast for a couple of seconds then glides for a bit before flapping again. This is not the easy-going flight of a long distance flyer, especially over the sea.

But there they were, flying precariously low over a choppy ocean, circling the boat as if they needed to land for a rest. Each time they came close they saw humans and veered away before eventually continuing their erratic journey eastward across Exmouth Gulf.

So many Citizen Science questions!

The Gulf is a vast body of water so what was this little group of non-seabirds doing out in the middle of it? Where were they going? Would they make it to land? Can they land on water?

We were there, we saw this remarkable event and we’ve recorded it in the Citizen Science portal, eBird, for anyone in the world to view and learn from. You can view the record in eBird here.

Upon checking eBird we discovered that this is the ONLY confirmed sighting of Crested Pigeons flying over the open ocean!

citizen science projects Crested pigeon Ningaloo coast
Citizen Science sensation – Crested Pigeon (happily on land): Ningaloo Coast Jennie Wiles (guest on tour)

Why do Citizen Science projects matter to holiday makers?

Citizen Science allows travellers to make direct contributions to caring for the planet — but why would they want to do that? Recent research provides the answer.

In the past month two significant research pieces about community attitude towards the environment have been published. They both show a huge shift in community attitude towards caring for the planet.

In a wonderful example of proof beyond doubt, both studies came to the same conclusion: 97% of Australians want more action to protect nature. One study described this as “A seismic shift… in how Australians perceive their relationship with the natural world.” (*see Research References).

A deepening wariness of greenwashing was another significant finding in both reports.

What this means is that more travellers want to be involved in transparent, actionable activities that protect nature. They want solutions, answers and support and they don’t want greenwashing. This is where tour operators can make a real impact by actively participating in Citizen Science projects.

Ningaloo Coast Citizen Science
Scoping out for the species lists: Citizen Science on the Ningaloo Coast.

How can we make your holiday more meaningful?

Most of our special sightings are found by simply being on tour and putting the effort into trying to identify what we’re looking at. As a guest your efforts are vital in adding to this information.

Surprisingly many of the most unusual sightings are made when we’re looking for something else, take the Crested Pigeon sighting as an example. We were looking for whales, sea snakes, ospreys: the last thing we expected was a flock of pigeons!

To whet your appetite here’s a few highlights of what Echidna Walkabout’s guests have helped discover in the past:

Koalas do drink water….in the trees!

This ground-breaking discovery, made by Echidna Walkabout, has changed the way koala scientists see koalas. On our tours we discovered that when it rains koalas actively seek out rain water flowing down the trunks of trees. It’s called stemflow and is the subject of an ongoing research project in the You Yangs near Melbourne. You can read more here

Orchid discovery in the Top End

During one of our Wild Top End tours we found an orchid growing high in a tree in the Mary River National Park. Once again we were on a boat — looking for crocodiles — when one of the party saw an unusual shape in a distant tree. Lots of photos were taken by our guests and the combined effort (citizen science!) culminated in us identifying a new location for this recently discovered orchid species.

HELP OUT: Join our ➤ Wild Top End trip.

citizen science projects This paperbark Orchid  Top End
We discovered the Thin Paperbark Orchid (Dendrobium foelschei) Wild Top End Tony Martin (tour guest)

More Ningaloo Specials

Our Ningaloo trips have unearthed some extra special sightings. Here’s three…
Two new birds on South Muiron Island: a Spotted Harrier and a Beach Stone-curlew. Neither have ever been recorded in this location.

And off North West Cape we found a Great-winged Petrel, a bird of the Southern Ocean at one of its northernmost locations. We only found it through checking and double checking guests’ photos.

HELP OUT: Join one of our ➤ Ningaloo trips: Island Birds & Whale Sharks OR Island Birds with Humpbacks

These Citizen Science projects add meaning to your holiday. By being involved you change the way we see and understand nature.

citizen science projects Cape Range Ningaloo Coast
Citizen Science – Collecting ID photos in the Cape Range National Park, Ningaloo Coast

Behind the story…

Research References


Thankyou to participants on our tours for allowing us to use their amazing photos. Photos without credits are by Echidna Walkabout. Do not use these photos without the express permission of the owners.


Echidna Walkabout is a Founding Member of Australian Wildlife Journeys.
We also create, guide and operate tours for Australian Geographic Travel

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