(Photos: [left] Sergeant Major, [right] Maritigrella fuscopunctata)
Following a trailblazing 10 years of the Spot the Jellyfish campaign and the launch of the Spot the Alien Fish campaign in 2017, the Department of Geosciences and the International Ocean Institute (IOI) decided to team up once again to formulate a third marine citizen science campaign – the Spot the Alien one – which aims to elicit reporting of non-fish marine alien species by the public.
As has been the case for previous two citizen science campaigns, this campaign is coordinated by Malta’s Ocean Ambassador and EU Commission Ocean Mission Board member Prof. Alan Deidun and features the design and printing of flagship campaign posters and a prolific online presence through an ad-hoc website and social media.
The Spot the Alien campaign poster features a total of 24 marine Non-Indigenous Species (NIS), ranging from algae to flatworms, crustaceans, molluscs and even sea urchins, which have either been recently recorded in Maltese waters for the first time or else have been recorded for the first time from contiguous areas in the Mediterranean, such as Sicily and Tunisia.
The same flagship poster provides salient information on each featured species, such as native range and date of first record in Maltese waters. The Spot the Alien website has been recently revamped so that it now represents a single gateway for both this and the Spot the Alien Fish campaigns, besides providing a nexus to the Spot the Jellyfish campaign as well, thus greatly facilitating public access and participation.
Mr Martin Galea Degiovanni has been entrusted with applying the website changes. The social media pages for the different citizen science campaigns have a combined total of almost 2,500 followers.
The plan is for the website to publicly display (following rigorous validation of the report in question) geo-referenced records of marine alien species received in future, as is the case for records received by the Spot the Jellyfish campaign, thus further contributing to the aims and objectives of the upcoming UN’s Ocean Sciences Decade (2021-2030) through its ocean literacy contribution.
Through citizen science reports received by the Spot the Alien Fish and the Spot the Alien campaigns in recent years, a number of marine alien species have been recorded from Maltese waters for the first time, including the Guinea angelfish (Holacanthus africanus) and Azure demoiselle (Chrysiptera hemicyanea), whilst trends in the abundance of established marine alien species, including the dusky spinefoot (Siganus luridus), the reticulated leatherjack (Stephanolepis diaspros), the blue swimmer crab (Portunus segnis), as well as a number of widespread alien algal species, thus representing a remarkable scientific contribution as well.
The Mediterranean Sea is one of the regional seas most impacted by the influx of marine Non-Indigenous Species (NIS), and the introduction of such species into new areas has been recognised as one of the most insidious threats to the integrity of marine ecosystems worldwide. Citizen science has come of age in recent years as a powerful tool which can make sense of disparate ecological phenomena, such as the introduction of marine NIS.
Data generated through the 3 citizen science campaigns operated by the Department of Geosciences actively contribute to national monitoring efforts in relation to marine NIS. Partners supporting the Spot the Alien citizen science campaign include the University of Malta, the International Ocean Institute (IOI), the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Friends of the Earth environmental NGO.