Community and Youth Give the Dragons a Helping Hand

Today, I want to share about something exciting with you. It is about a citizen science project I have been working on since late last year which was launched in January 2016. It’s called the ‘Dragons of Sydney Harbour’. It aims to inspire and increase the community’s understanding about the importance and existence of wildlife and bushland in urban settings. Using the Eastern Water Dragon as a flagship species, participants are invited to Bradleys Head (Mosman NSW) for a day to help survey for the dragons living around the area. They also get to learn about the importance of native vegetation and the problems caused by weeds and how it impacts the quality of habitat for wildlife.

Juvenile Resting On Rock
Eastern Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii)

So far, I had four groups of highly enthusiastic young people from ‘Youth At The Zoo’ (YATZ), NSW high schools and individuals from the community who came along to give the dragons a helping hand. Their participation really deserves a heartfelt applause as they braved hot and sticky temperatures to get the tasks completed. Of course, everyone had fun and stole a moment or two for that incredible photo opportunity along the way. Honestly, who can blame them with that view!

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Safety Briefing with YATZ before the start of activities

Where is this happening?

The project is happening at Bradleys Head located within the Sydney Harbour National Park in New South Wales. Participants get to enjoy stunning views of the famous Harbour Bridge and Opera House while doing their bit for the Eastern Water Dragons. Another famous attraction located within the vicinity is Taronga Zoo Sydney.

View from Bradleys Head Walk
View from Bradleys Head Walk, Mosman NSW

Dragon Activities

The participants are definitely kept busy through a variety of activities like dragon survey, rubbish collection and bush regeneration. Yes, you do get your hands dirty for this one!

Every activity was designed for a purpose. Each activity tells a story and helps people connect to what is right at their doorstep. With views of residential dwelling across the water, yachts bobbing up and down scattered everywhere, and the two Australian icons (Harbour Bridge and Opera House), it is no wonder that someone can forget or even find it hard to imagine that this area is home to dragons and an endangered amphibian species known as the Red-crowned toadlet.

What’s the deal with the survey?

Due to its close proximity to the city and the zoo, the Bradleys Head walk experiences frequent visitors walking or jogging up and down the path. The dragons are often seen basking on or along the edge of paths soaking up the sunlight. However, upon close approach they tend to retreat away from their basking spot. It is not known if this results in any physiological changes in this species. Hence, the survey is designed to collect data to hopefully help us investigate this further.

Training to use survey equipment
Training to use data sheet to gather information on dragons

When a dragon is spotted basking along the path, from a safe distance participants use an infrared thermometer and record ground temperatures. A densiometer is then utilised to measure the canopy cover just above the area where the dragon was basking. Details such as age, sex, distance of retreat and where it was spotted are also recorded.

Densiometer - to measure canopy cover
Densiometer – to measure canopy cover

Other Activities

Sadly, this area does have a litter problem. During my initial site scoping and training runs, I came across used diapers, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and empty drink cans posing a huge hazard to native wildlife. Newly hatched Eastern Water Dragons are tiny and can easily make their way into empty plastic bottles or cans, get stuck and die.

By getting the participants to collect rubbish, we hope to highlight the problems faced by natural environments located in close proximity to urban dwellings.

Bush regeneration is yet another vital component of this project. To help wildlife thrive in urban areas, they need quality habitat. Talks by staff from Conservation Volunteers Australia and hands-on weeding activity assist participants to learn and understand the importance of native vegetation for wildlife habitats.

Who can get involved?

Almost everyone who is interested and would love to get their hands dirty can get involved in this project! We do have an age limit due to safety requirements of the bush regeneration activities. Participants have to be 13 years and above.

Nature chit chat along the way - so it's not all work and no play :)
Nature chit chat along the way – so it’s not all work and no play 🙂

How can YOU get involved?

If you live in Sydney NSW, we would love for you to come along and join us! There are three upcoming ‘Dragons of Sydney Harbour’ events open to the community organised in collaboration with Mosman Council. I have included the link below. Click on the link, select a date, complete registration and turn up on the day. Did I leave out the best part? It is completely FREE!

For more details and registration, CLICK HERE.

Upcoming Dates/Time: Tuesday 15 March 2016, Tuesday 05 April 2016, Wednesday 06 April 2016. The event starts at 9.15am and finishes at 2.15pm.

‘Dragons of Sydney Harbour’ is delivered by National Parks Association of NSW Inc (where I work) in partnership with Greater Sydney Local Land Services (funding support), Conservation Volunteers Australia, Taronga Zoo Sydney, Macquarie University, and National Parks & Wildlife Services.

Photo Credits:
Header - Kelly Andersen (Project Participant)
Densiometer - Forestry Suppliers, United States
All other photos have been used with permission from National Parks Association of NSW
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