Documenting Endangered Wildlife With Your Mobile Phone

In the wake of the gulf oil spill, scientists flooded the Gulf coast in an attempt to assess and qualify the extent of the ecological damage inflicted on the delicate ecosystems that exist in the marine and freshwater water ways along the coast. From afar, we witnessed the extent of the damage through images of oil-drenched herons were strewn across the pages of most newspapers. And, up close, residents dutifully reported balls of rubber the size of gulf balls that slowly began to wash up along their previously pristine white sand beaches. I was particularly impressed when I heard about NOAH'S---The Organization of Networked Organisms and Habitat-- citizen-driven mobile app initiative. The organization simply designed an application through which everyday citizens could easily document the impact the oil spill was having on their community's ecosystem. With Project NOAH, citizens can document species in the field, learn more about the species they are documenting and provide structured field guide investigations for more earnest explorers---Here's the gist from the NOAH website itself: Spottings: Grab a photograph of a plant or animal that you find interesting or want to learn more about, select the appropriate category, add some descriptive tags, and submit it. On our end, we capture the location details along with other important information and store it in our database which we've nicknamed "the ark".

Location-based Field Guide: See what kinds of plants and animals have been spotted near you and learn more about them. Search through a list view or explore a map view of the most recent spottings all based on your location. We work with local experts and volunteers to help verify spottings and provide detailed species information from the Encyclopedia of Life and Wikipedia.

Field Missions: Noah is all about documenting and discovering local wildlife. We work with labs, environmental groups, and various organizations to help them gather important data for their research projects. Missions can range from photographing squirrels or mushrooms to tracking migrating birds or invasive species. Field missions allow users to contribute to ongoing research projects, but they can also be for fun and exploration.

The Project NOAH initiative is proving to pay a critical role in scientists formal assessment of hte impact of the oil spill on wildlife throughout the gulf region. In particular, it's successfully giving agency to many individuals who have most likely felt tinges of desperation as clouds of oil threaten to lap against their beaches and threaten the treasured natural ecosystems that are so prized in the regions.