A central tenant of the UVNSW initiative is standardisation through the use of state-wide protocols. Regardless of the UVNSW protocol being used by UVGs, standardisation ensures that comparability between sites and through time can be undertaken. The development of standard templates for data collection and handling is driven by:
- the development of appropriate protocols to meet the capacity of community groups to undertake assessment and monitoring programs;
- the compilation of species lists/debris categories that can be readily recognised and monitored by members of UVGs, and yet at the same time provide information that will illuminate an environmental issue;
- the delivery of training resources to assist members of UVGs to understand the assessment and monitoring protocols; and
- the needs and capacity of community groups to undertake data management. In this context a web-based data system provides for ease of data entry. This information can then be accessed by all UVGs, government agencies and researchers.
Initial training of members of UVGs should be delivered by a trainer who is familiar with the standard protocols. Importantly, this person should be a good communicator who can readily engage with members and has an excellent knowledge of not only the marine environment in general but more specifically the issues and biota that are the subject of the protocols.
It is anticipated that this approach will reduce inconsistencies in data collection that may arise from volunteers teaching volunteers. Further, involvement by a professional working in the marine sciences will help members recognise that there is an investment in the data they will be collecting as being important and thus needs to be collected accurately.
Training is designed to ensure best practice when selecting appropriate monitoring sites, aid in species/debris identification, and the appropriate management of collected data.
Further, the trainer can provide UVGs with information re. monitoring materials including the manufacture of slates, data sheets and other equipment, the positioning of transects and the most appropriate reference material. Additionally, the trainer can play a valuable role in providing feedback to the volunteers, both during and post training sessions.
UVNSW recognises that within many UVGs there are members who are already experienced in conducting research activities in sub-tidal environments. Furthermore, some members are currently working professionally in the marine sciences or possess a high order of knowledge about marine systems/biota. It’s anticipated that these members will be targeted as trainers. Thus after the initial training program has been conducted further training opportunities within each UVG will be conducted by one or more of these individuals, i.e. the capacity of individuals within UVGs will be increased through not only the participation of members of a group in conducting sub-tidal activities, but also by providing the opportunity for individuals to take on the responsibility of providing high quality training to members of their UVG.