The world is filled with nature watchers, from trampers to hunters, birders to beach-combers, and pros to school kids. Many of us keep notes of what we find. What if all those observations could be shared online? You might learn about the butterflies that live in your neighbourhood, or discover someone who knows all about the plants in your favourite reserve. For a long time, everyone's notes have been scattered in notebooks, private spreadsheets and dusty library shelves. As a society, we have seen a lot but collectively we remain blind to most changes in our biodiversity. When enough people record their observations on NatureWatch NZ, we change all this. We build a living record of life in New Zealand that scientists and environmental managers can use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone can use to learn more about New Zealand's amazing natural history.
That's the vision behind NatureWatch NZ. So if you like recording your findings from the outdoors, you want to connect with other nature watchers, or if you want help identifying and learning about all the species living around you, join us!
NatureWatch NZ is run by the New Zealand Bio-Recording Network Trust, a charitable trust dedicated to bio-recording. The Trustees are:
The Trust is also supported by a larger group of advisors and collaborators who have helped develop NatureWatch NZ over the years.
Our lofty aims are:
We began in 2005 with a grant from the New Zealand government's TFBIS programme to prototype a community nature observation system for New Zealand. Colin Meurk and Jerry Cooper from Landcare Research and Jon Sullivan from Lincoln University led the project to adapt for New Zealand the award-winning Swedish nature observation system, Artportalen (which means species gateway). Artportalen had, and has, a great following in Sweden and neighbouring countries. Landcare Research IT developer Mark Fulgestad unexpectedly found himself taking a crash course in Swedish.
With our NZ version, called NZBRN, we were able to amass several hundred thousand observations, mostly of birds, fungi, and plants. Most of this was from the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey and botanist Graeme Jane's extensive personal database of plant observations. We also attracted a small but devoted group of users who collectively shared tens of thousands of observations and greatly increased our knowledge of the natural history of New Zealand. NZBRN had lots of detailed features and could make great distribution maps and spreadsheets, but it was generally regarded as too difficult and complicated for widespread use.
Internet technology changes quickly and after few years the original NZBRN system was creaking at the seams and looking ready for a museum. To the Facebook and Twitter generation, it was a dinosaur. It was time for a change. At the end of 2010, we secured more funding from TFBIS (thanks TFBIS!) to build something new and shiny. We started by reviewing the options internationally, and one new system really stood out, iNaturalist. It ticked most of our boxes; it was beautiful and fun to use and made full use of modern social media to build an online community. Plus, it was open-source, which meant that we could join in the development of the iNaturalist code-base for the benefit of them and us. We like mutualisms!
iNaturalist began as the Master's final project of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda at UC Berkeley's School of Information in 2008. Nate and Ken-ichi continued working on the site, along with Scott Loarie, a climate change researcher at the Carnegie Institution. Because it's open-source, a variety of new developers are now sharing in the ongoing development of the iNaturalist codebase.
The New Zealand Bio-Recording Network Trust launched its New Zealand optimised blend of iNaturalist in August 2012 as NatureWatch NZ. (In an extensive survey of our NZBRN users, our initial name suggestions, kiwiNaturalist and nzNaturalist, which played on our new iNaturalist connections, were shot down by people concerned they'd be obligated to do their nature watching without any clothes.) NatureWatch NZ includes all of the masses of observations and users from the legacy NZBRN system, it transfers some of the NZBRN bells and whistles like "Sought but not found", and it links to the New Zealand Organisms Register (NZOR) for a complete and up-to-date list of all NZ species. We will continue to to develop with iNaturalist, giving kiwis all the goodness baked into iNaturalist with a vibrant online community of kiwi nature watchers and connections to NZ information and features.
We wouldn't be able to make NatureWatch NZ and iNaturalist without many, many wonderful open source projects, open datasets, and public APIs, including (in no particular order): New Zealand Organisms Register, Catalogue of Life, uBio, Ruby on Rails, jQuery, Google Maps, Mark James' Silk Icons, and lots of others. iNaturalist.org has also been helped by many people along the way, including Coye Cheshire and Andrew McDiarmid. NatureWatch NZ has benefited from the technical skills and enthusiasm of Dave Lane's team at Catalyst IT software developers (including the part of it that was formerly Egressive), and IT pros Zane Gilmore and Kit Randel. And, of course, thanks to all of you users for making NatureWatch NZ an online community.