The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is a threatened species and yet authorities do not hold reliable data on how many live in our landscape.
More than two decades ago, it was believed that fewer than 1000 eagles existed but populations are not known. Natural scientist Dr Clare Hawkins believes the answer to this problem could lie in citizen science.
This model sees ordinary citizens collecting or processing data that can be used by scientists for research purposes, by governments to assist decision making or general populations to facilitate a greater interest in the environment.
As bushfires ravage Australia, decimating animal and plant populations in their wake, this form of science participation could become more important in future years.
It is already in widespread use, with projects such as the Frog ID app recording frog calls and marine projects such as REDMAP recording uncommon marine species in Australia.
Dr Hawkins became interested in its power after completing a Churchill Fellowship in 2015 on the topic.
Following this, she gave up her job in the state government to focus on the ability of citizen science to rectify threatened species data gaps in an area where government funding and resource is unreliable. She said more than 80 per cent of Tasmania's threatened species are not monitored, and most people were shocked when they learnt of this.
People often ask of eagles, and our other threatened species, 'so how many actually are there?' and find it hard to believe that for most of them we have absolutely no up to date information.Dr Clare Hawkins
"People often ask of eagles, and our other threatened species, 'so how many actually are there?' and find it hard to believe that for most of them we have absolutely no up-to-date information," Dr Hawkins said.
"We have virtually no idea if their prospects are improving or worsening. Even fewer of our non-threatened species are monitored, so some of them could be heading for extinction without us even realising."
Dr Hawkins is now involved with the Bookend Trust, an organisation which founded citizen scientist projects such as Where? Where? Wedgie and Claws on the Line through its Nature Trackers website.
The first aims to discover whether the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle populations have increased or decreased, while the second looks at burrowing crayfish.
"It's important to monitor species in order to be aware of when they might need some help, and also whether or not our conservation efforts, which can be very expensive, are working," she said.
"Events like the current bushfires remind us how quickly [species] prospects can potentially change."
The Where? Where? Wedgie project began in 2018 after a successful $20,000 crowd-sourced campaign.
More than 220 volunteer teams, including 61 from Tasmanian schools, participated in the first statewide survey in 2018 that now always takes place in May, which is the safest month to avoid eagle breeding.
Groups of about three citizen scientists spend the day scanning the skies for eagles, other birds of prey, and sulphur-crested cockatoos, in a pre-booked and pre-mapped 234 kilometres by four-kilometres square.
From 8am until 4.30pm, six 10-minute surveys conducted every hour or half-hour must be undertaken, where ideally, one person is looking to the sky, one person is recording and one person is taking photos of the sighted birds within the designated square.
Dr Hawkins said if the surveys are repeated year after year in the same squares substantial changes in the population size will be detected.
"Often the funding model for any research funded by government tends to be very short term, but what we need here is long term, where you do the same thing every year to see how things are changing," she said.
"If more people participate, this will help us pick up smaller changes, and also allow us to monitor other birds of prey more effectively."
This year's survey will be held on May 15-17 and May 29-31.
Dr Hawkins said the previous uptake of surveys in the North, South and East Coast had been good, with lesser participation in the Midlands and on the West Coast and South-West Tasmania.
She said bookings for survey squares by early February.
"To get accurate information we need surveys all across the state, both where eagles are plentiful and also where they're not... we are particularly reaching out to adventurers who might be prepared to commit to somewhere remote west," she said.
"These first years have been all about designing, trialling and promoting the surveys. We're aiming to inspire sufficient individuals and organisations into viewing promotion of and participation [of these projects] as brief, easy and enjoyable parts of their annual activities."
For Dr Hawkins, another exciting part of the project was seeing new people taking part in citizen science. She said projects such as these could break down the ivory towers of the scientific realm, and facilitate a keen interest in younger generations.
Concerns about the quality of data, she said, were overridden by the overall positive impact of citizen science in exciting people about science and conversation.
"We found that the majority of our participants had never taken part in a citizen science project and in participating were inspired to do more for eagle conservation in the future," she said.
"We need more information, and we need the information to be widespread. Involving citizen scientists means you have more eyes on the ground, and also, that the information is more widely available to everyone."
Smartphone app iNaturalist, which sees people from around the world uploading photos and sightings of various species, is being used for the Claws on the Line campaign and allows everyday people to upload and see what species are being spotted and where.
Dr Hawkins said there are 33 different species of burrowing crayfish in Tasmania.
"We are definitely interested in all of them and are encouraging people to record any chimney burrows on iNaturalist. When the crayfish burrow they leave a chimney mound of mud above ground."