Words by Smiley Team
What if we told you there’s a woman helping thousands of young budding conservationists count walrus in space – and that it was a good thing?
From the comfort of her bedroom desk, 32-year-old April Matthews is working on an exciting project allowing the public to help WWF track walrus numbers – using space satellites.
As project manager on WWF’s newly launched ‘Walrus from Space’ platform – in tandem with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and MAXAR Technologies – April, from London, has been busy developing the project to help thousands of people across the world to become their own scientists, while actively helping to safeguard the future of walrus in the Arctic.
And on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, it’s an inspiring time to hear about young girls being empowered and encouraged to take an interest in an industry they don’t always feel represented in.
With this platform, aspiring conservationists can study the satellite pictures online, spot areas where walrus haul out onto land, and then count them. To date, more than 11,000 people have participated from all over the world including China, India, Africa and across Europe and America.
Earlier this year, Cub Scouts from across the UK also became walrus spotters to test the platform ahead of its public release. The Scouts have been a partner of WWF since the early 1970s, and over 57 million scouts globally are engaged in environmental projects. Cub Scout Imogen Scullard, age 9, said: “I love learning about the planet and how it works. We need to protect it from climate change. We are helping the planet by doing the walrus count with space satellites, which is really cool. It was a hard thing to do but we stuck at it”.
The data collected in this census of Atlantic and Laptev walrus will give scientists a clearer picture of how each population is doing – without disturbing the animals.
The walrus is easily recognised by its size and magnificent tusks. It's a key species in Arctic marine ecosystems – and while it was once threatened by commercial hunting, today the biggest danger it faces is climate change.
Walruses can have a large effect on their prey and play an important role in the Arctic ecosystem by influencing the structure of benthic invertebrate communities (which are organisms that live in or on the bottom sediments of rivers, streams, and lakes).
“The challenge is, we don’t know enough about how climate change is impacting walrus in the Arctic,” says April. “We know the arctic is warming 3x faster than the global average, and we also know walrus use sea ice to be close to their food source, for resting and to give birth away from predators.
“As sea ice diminishes, more walrus are forced to seek refuge on land. The aim of this project is to better understand how the disappearing sea ice will impact Laptev and Atlantic walrus populations now and in the future.
“What makes this project so special is public participation, and I am thrilled so many people have already taken part!”
April's goal is to involve 500,000 citizen scientists over the next five years to take part in their annual walrus count.
The ‘Walrus from Space’ project is supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, as well as RBC Tech for Nature and WWF supporters.
GET INVOLVED: Become a "walrus detective" and help with April's conservation work on the WWF website.
DONATE: You can donate to any of WWF's campaigns on its website.
ADOPT: Adopt an animal with WWF and directly support their vital work protecting iconic species.