SA’s Bird Atlas Citizen Science Project and COVID-19 lockdown

The effects of the Covid-19 lockdown are still ongoing and have resulted in major setbacks in many areas including citizen science projects in South Africa. The Southern African Bird Atlas Project, SABAP2, is such a project which was severely affected by the strict lockdown regulations. The SABAP2 project is a large-scale citizen science project which relies on volunteers to be mobile to collect information on birds sighted or heard in order to map bird species distributions in Southern Africa. Volunteers utilise a BirdLasser birding app to select a geographical ‘pentad’ on a map and record all the bird species seen within a set time frame, in order of species seen. The data collected can be submitted either as a full protocol or ad hoc list.

The former entails at least two hours of active bird watching over a maximum of five days, and the latter entails information on bird species encountered in a lesser time frame. This information helps to determine the conservation status of bird species; correctly assigning red-list status and establishing important Bird and Biodiversity Areas; and forming the basis for informing environmental impact assessments. To determine the impact of lockdown on the project, researchers from the University of Cape Town compared four years (2017-2020) of citizen activity between February to May.

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