Oceanographic and Biological Aspects of the Red Sea: The Role of Citizen Science in Monitoring Megafauna of the Red Sea
Citizen science is an innovative approach that relies on non-specialists to monitor species and ecosystems over long time periods and vast geographical areas. Citizen science has been used extensively in marine science to monitor endangered species such as sharks and marine turtles, coral reefs and their associated fish species, marine mammals, invasive species and, more recently, coral bleaching and marine litter. Engaging people over the long term can be challenging but using social media, gamification, and emphasizing the value of volunteer contributions through data sharing, can help to keep communities motivated. In the Red Sea, there is enormous potential for using citizen science in monitoring endangered species and ecosystems due to the presence of a fleet of safari boats and dive centres going to sea daily. Engaging with this sector and creating long lasting partnerships for data collection through simple protocols could be a winning approach to obtain important information from remote areas and/or on rare species. In this chapter, we present the preliminary results of a citizen science program targeting marine turtles in their feeding grounds in the Egyptian Red Sea waters that was conducted from 2011 to 2013. During the study period 2,448 surveys were completed at 157 sites and included a total of 1,038 sightings of turtles. The most commonly observed species were hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green (Chelonia mydas) turtles; however, rarer species, such as loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) turtles were also recorded. Among the sites that were monitored, some were considered as important for turtles (i.e., had a high probability of observing a turtle), while in others, turtles were not observed despite carrying out multiple surveys. Participants reported turtles of various sizes and ages with adults and sub-adults being the predominant observed age class. The presence of adults seemed to be related to the nesting season (May–September), which was also when the survey effort was higher. Adult male turtles were observed on various occasions, providing important input on their whereabouts during nesting and non-nesting seasons. Finally, participants detected behaviour that had not been previously described in the region, such as courting and mating. Results from TurtleWatch Egypt provided new insight in our knowledge of marine turtles in the Red Sea, especially from the largely under-studied feeding grounds.