The IMA’s Lionfish SeaiTT Mobile App: Marine Conservation in the Palm of Your Hand
by Krystal Ganaselal – Information Officer/Public Relations
Citizens with an avid interest in environmental matters will be able to ‘sea’ their environmental reports using mobile technology. The first of its kind in Trinidad and Tobago, the Institute of Marine Affairs’ new Integrated Environmental Incident Software Platform and mobile application, called the Lionfish SeaiTT, allows users to report environmental incidents with the touch of a button. The development of this mobile application was part of a 2014 Green Fund project entitled ‘Control and Management of the Invasive Lionfish in Trinidad and Tobago’ which aimed to raise awareness on the arrival of the marine invasive species, the lionfish, Pterios volitans, to the territorial waters around Trinidad and Tobago, and the imminent threat the species pose to domestic marine ecosystems.
The lionfish, which is indigenous to the Pacific region, is believed to have arrived in the waters of the western hemisphere through the aquarium trade. An indomitable species, the lionfish has no known natural predators in the waters of the Western Hemisphere enabling them to lay thousands of eggs. Both attributes have led to an explosion of their numbers in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. However, their ability to breed prolifically, is not what is concerning to scientists. These fish eat a wide variety of organisms including fish which are of value to human communities for food, and for the ecosystem services they provide.
Lionfish have been found to eat many species of reef fish thereby reducing the population of reef fish which are critical to the health of coral reefs in the Caribbean. Many coral reef systems across the region are in decline and are not as healthy or as vast as they were four decades ago. And coral reefs protect human communities by providing:
- a buffer to the wave energy that can erode coastlines,
- a nursery for commercial species of juvenile fish, and
- livelihoods for those who make a living from eco-tourism.
A delicate balance of the interaction among organisms and processes aid in the maintenance of healthy coral reef systems, and reef fish are an integral part of that balance. Reef fish, like the Parrotfish, aid in keeping coral reefs healthy and resilient to stressors in the marine environment by grazing on the macroalgae that can smother the reefs, blocking the sunlight. Sunlight is needed by the zooxanthellae, which live inside the coral structures, to produce the oxygen and food that supports the life of the coral. Less reef fish therefore means the health of coral reefs are threatened. Further, the lionfish have also been found to eat local commercial species of fish such as Snapper and Grouper, threatening food security and livelihoods of fisherfolk.
A major objective of this 2014 Green Funded project was the identification and mapping of where the lionfish can be found in local territorial waters. The IMA depended on fisherfolk, divers, persons on board offshore rigs and other marine interests to indicate the presence of the invasive species. Leveraging advances in Information Communication Technologies, the pervasiveness of mobile devices together with the advancements made in the local telecommunications market (with increased 3G & LTE broadband coverage), users of the Lionfish SeaiTT mobile application will be able to effortlessly report any sightings of the lionfish and many more environmental incidents. The Lionfish SeaiTT mobile application makes the process of reporting sightings of lionfish much easier. Stakeholders, using GPS, can report the location of the lionfish, their numbers, size and upload any pictures captured. This data will assist the IMA in its research and monitoring of this invasive species, and in preparing a management plan aimed at controlling its population.
Created in collaboration with the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI), the app developer, CARIRI affirms “IMA’s Lionfish SeaiTT app has appeal for everyone.” Members of the public can also provide scientists at the IMA with information on coral bleaching, fish kills, oil and chemical spills, mammals standings, coastal erosion or flooding, storm surges and other coastal or marine anomalies. Quick access entry tools, with drop down, check boxes enable app users to effortlessly submit data. The app also facilitates a smooth transition amongst the various types of reports to be recorded.
The data provided by citizens and stakeholders will be verified, analysed and once it meets certain criteria may be utilised in further research activities. Project lead and Information Manager, Mr Andre Hanief, at the IMA sums it up nicely “The app is truly unique to Trinidad and Tobago, as it facilitates citizen science, by allowing users to become actively involved in reporting crucial information regarding environmental incidents which affect our marine and coastal areas, using their own mobile device.” By enabling the public to share and meaningfully contribute to various types of data collection programmes, it is hoped that citizens are also inspired to become environmental champions, while increasing their awareness and understanding of our marine resources and ecosystems.
The App is not only for those for whom the water is their life and work. For those who may not venture into the depths of the blue seas around us; our beach goers, adventure seekers, and recreational fishers, they can also benefit from the latest marine science information provided. The mobile app provides daily tidal information, a list of some of the country’s top beaches and the amenities (lifeguard services, washrooms, food, and beverage and more) available there and more. Students, teachers, and researchers can keep abreast or the latest research conducted at the IMA and around the globe in marine science and conservation.
The App also provides some impressive photography of the marine and coastal areas of Trinidad and Tobago that users can download and save photos into their favourites for later viewing or to their device for use as wallpapers. In areas of limited or no Wi-Fi network access, the information entered by the user in the reporting fields will be stored until connectivity is re-established.
By downloading IMA’s Lionfish SeaiTT App, users will also have access to newsletters and press articles and receive notifications of upcoming events. The Lionfish SeaiTT App became available for download, free of charge, on Apple Store and the Google Play for iOS and Android users from November 6th, 2020.