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!

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

School Biodiversity Project: Connecting Students with Nature

Guest Blog by: Howard Elston
(an inspiring School Teacher who is currently working on an amazing sustainable home development project)

“If children don’t know the natural environment, then how can they care about it?”  Hearing this question at a teachers’ Sustainable Living conference grabbed my attention.  What did the students at my Melbourne suburban school know about the natural world?  Why should they care about places unfamiliar to them if there was no emotional attachment?  Responding to questions like these led to me starting the Year 5 & 6 Biodiversity Project.

To begin, I needed a place with natural features outside the school grounds.  Luckily, my school was within walking distance of a bushland reserve running along a small creek.  It offered an ideal location for an outdoor classroom where students could safely roam in a slightly wild setting.

The City Council kindly agreed to allocate a section of the reserve to the school.  With guidance from Council staff, students would provide the labour necessary to maintain and improve this area.

Picture 1
Bushland reserve near the school

In consultation with an indigenous nursery, students decided the best way to make a difference was to remove weeds from the bushland and plant a variety of indigenous seedlings (ground covers, shrubs and trees).  Each Term, the students spent an afternoon at the reserve, working on “their part” and observing what had changed since the last visit.

Spreading mulch was a good way of preventing weeds from reappearing and creating the right conditions for native plants to propagate.  Everyone had a chance to get their hands dirty!

Picture 2
Hundreds of seedlings were planted to thicken up the bushland

picture 3

Over the years since the project has been running, I have observed the growing connection between these students and their local environment.  As one student said to me, “I like the way you can see we’re making a difference.  This is a fun way to do something about climate change.”   Council representatives also commented on the gradual change.  They could see the students’ care and attention paying off with a steady improvement in the bushland setting.

Once the project was established, the ideas for making other connections flowed thick and fast.  I discovered many people in the local community who were eager to assist with educating students about the natural world.

picture 4

Highlights for the students included:

  • Learning how to care for the plants and animals in the creek with the assistance of specialists from Melbourne Water.
  • Studying the mini-beasts which lived in the bushland under the guidance of a biologist.
  • Listening to an Aboriginal elder explain the First Australians’ perspective on caring for country while sitting in a place that the students cared about.
  • Getting to know the native bird species with expert guidance from volunteer bird watchers. Students then built and installed duck nesting boxes near the creek so the ducks could thrive.
  • Sharing their experiences of caring for the local environment at an Australian conference of school children with similar passions and interests.

I am optimistic the experience has helped successive classes make a connection with the natural environment. If, as they grow to young adults, they feel empowered to take action on environmental concerns, then I have succeeded.  They truly do care.

Meet my guest blogger, Howard Elston and his wife Libby 🙂

Libby and Howard
Libby and Howard

This wonderful piece was kindly shared by Howard giving us a chance to learn more about such an awesome biodiversity project. After reading this, my curiosity peaked. I started wondering about all the other projects out there working to create this precious connection between kids and our natural environment. At present, Howard and Libby are working on a sustainable home development project. Equipped with their enthusiasm and ‘stop thinking, start doing’ attitude, they have embarked on an adventure to explore various options and build units which are kinder to our planet. Follow their adventure here.

Photo Credits:
All photos within text: Howard Elston
Header:  Theophilos via / CC BY-NC-ND