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Charity crowdsources environmental data with new mobile app

Environmental organisation Project Aware has launched a mobile app to help divers map marine debris

Project Aware, an environmental charity dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, is embarking on a major data crowdsourcing project using a new smartphone app to help scientists gain a deeper understanding of marine debris and the problems it can cause.

Defined as anthropogenic, manufactured or processed solid material discarded or washed into the sea, marine debris includes items such as discarded fishing gear, plastics and microplastics, among many other things.

The problem of marine debris is increasing rapidly, with all seven species of sea turtles, over half of marine mammals and two-thirds of seabird species having been recorded as affected by, for example, becoming tangled in fishing lines, or ingesting plastics.

Project Aware’s Dive Against Debris survey started in 2011 in an attempt to understand the extend of the issue, and has relied heavily on reports from 30,000 divers from 182 countries, who collectively have registered and removed nearly 850,000 items of debris already. The charity’s new mobile app is designed to take this further.

“For many people, marine debris is a problem that is out of sight, out of mind once it enters the marine environment,” said Danna Moore, director of global operations at Project Aware. “This is mainly because 70% of marine debris that enters the ocean sinks to the sea floor.

“That is why scuba divers are so critical to this movement – they have the unique ability to bring to the surface what is going on beneath the waves. This app is going to make a huge difference in gathering critically needed data to reveal the extent of the global marine debris crisis for scientists and help conservationists to advocate for change. There is a tide of debris suffocating the ocean. We have to reverse it.”

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The app has been specifically designed to help divers register information on man-made debris that they find while diving, and includes a list of commonly encountered waste. The user device’s geo-location features mean the problem can be pinpointed with much greater accuracy.

The app also contains features to store collected data as an offline draft in the event of the device having no data connection in a remote area, and also enables divers to report debris-free locations.

Project Aware hopes the app will become an invaluable aid to building a worldwide dataset for both scientific and environmental organisations to begin to tackle the problem and drive long-term change.

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