The recent horrendous bushfires has been a "wake-up call" for the community about the irrefutable evidence of climate change, Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute executive director John Merson said.
It's the one positive that has come out of the 2019/2020 fires which impacted some 80 per cent of the million hectares of the World-Heritage area.
"We as citizens have a responsibility ... much like testing for the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to gather as much information as possible to understand the impacts of more extreme fires, and weather conditions driven by climate change."
Dr Merson has been worried about the effects of climate change on the environment for 30 years. The Institute, which has been running since 2004, is now rapidly expanding citizen scientist projects as government, business and community support grows for their work.
A project which started at Scenic World two years ago to monitor climate changes impacts of flora and fauna in their backyard has since expanded to other areas in the Upper Mountains - the Fairfax Track in Blackheath and the Conservation Hut in Wentworth Falls. While monitoring has been limited with the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, it will start again this month with 28 new sites across Blackheath, Katoomba, Wentworth Falls, Lawson and Springwood. It's the first time the Institute has been able to add in monitoring of the mid Mountains.
The project is possible thanks to 40 locally trained volunteers (many Blue Mountains Conservation Society members) who take pictures at a range of sites and manage data from "camera traps" which record the movement of different animals. They will soon be introducing sound recording to track the movement of birds. The change in the plant and animals recorded through the monitoring will provide a snapshot of the impact of biodiversity from climate change on the ecosystems of the Blue Mountains. All the data recorded material is uploaded into and recorded on the Institute's database and then to a CSIRO BioCollect for long term storage. This portal will provide scientists, government agencies, and the community with future generations an early heads up to changes happening in their environment and potentially the opportunity to do something about them.
Dr Merson said the Institute works closely with all the universities in the Sydney basin who help with analysis of the data.
"We are installing new equipment, including camera traps, cameras and audio recording devices to monitor all five eco-system types including rainforest, wet sclerophyll, dry sclerophyll, heath and swamps. Our region is equally vulnerable to climate change, as other World-Heritage areas, like the Great Barrier Reef," he said.
Residents and tourists can take part in this monitoring through the use of an app being adapted specifically for the Mountains. They also hope to encourage schools to get involved. The app is an adaptation of the National Geographic Society's iNaturalist system and will feed data directly into the Institute's BioCollect database.
Dr Merson said the aim is to inform future protection and recovery planning at local, state and national levels.
It's all made possible with the help of $20,000 in grant funding from the Federal Government's Communities Environment Program, $10,000 from the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife, as well as funds from individuals and companies around the world.
Ian Darbyshire, CEO at the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife said they hoped to learn more about the impacts of climate change and preserve national parks for future generations.
Concern over the impact of the recent drought and fire on the Mountains has led to the Institute receiving a $142,000 Commonwealth heritage grant to support the development of a monitoring system for endangered upland swamps. These swamps badly impacted by the fires regulate and sustain the flow water within the World Heritage area, and for the dams that supply water for the people of Sydney.
Currently, the Blue Mountains National Park is only partially open in response to the COVID-19 emergency. Dr Merson said many species were still struggling after the fires.