The Path to Progress — Collaborative Conservation in Cairns

As the Australian summer set in, my internship at Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) came to a close. The heat and humidity made it difficult to be out all day monitoring mangroves and salt marshes. Therefore, during the second half of my internship, I shifted from working with volunteers to finishing up monitoring for 2019 and transitioned to helping with the end-of-the-year reporting back at the office.

Wrapping up salt marsh monitoring on a hot buggy day

CAFNEC’s projects and programs primarily run on grant money, so nearly all of  them require an end-of-year progress report. I assisted the staff in all reporting but engaged the most with CAFNEC’s citizen science program, MangroveWatch. If you’re interested, you can read more about my role with MangroveWatch in my blog post from September.

 

Measuring Progress

Progress reports are fairly straightforward, essentially acting as a summary of the past year–a thank you letter to the funders who made the project possible. For example, I compiled social media analytics to understand how many people our events and programs reached and who’s getting involved. For MangroveWatch, I finalized a map of all the areas where we conducted shoreline video assessment monitoring to demonstrate to both our funders and volunteers just how much water we covered.

Last MangroveWatch trip of the 2019 monitoring season

On top of a progress report, MangroveWatch required an additional report called a monitoring and evaluation plan. MangroveWatch is a project that aims to engage the broader public in reef conservation funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation through The Reef Trust.

The Reef Trust is a multi-party program run by the Australian government in collaboration with the Queensland government and the Great Barrier Reef Management Authority that targets key threats to the reef. In order to ensure the effective use of funding, the Reef Trust is implemented in phases, allowing ongoing access to funding through application and assessment processes.

 

Monitoring Progress

The assessment process is where the monitoring and evaluation plan comes back in. MangroveWatch checks multiple boxes required by the Reef Trust by engaging ordinary community members in data collection on mangrove and salt marsh health and tackling key threats to the reef such as buffer zone degradation and losses.

The purpose of the monitoring and evaluation plan is:

  1. To maximize coherence of the project steps to achieve end-of-goal outcomes
  2. To inform the success of the project and address where improvements can be made
  3. To ensure that the project is satisfying the funders intentions
  4. To collect data for future progress of the project

We focused on key evaluation questions (KEQs) to understand the strengths and weaknesses of MangroveWatch. Some of the questions included:

  • Are we building knowledge and understanding of participants?
  • Are we collecting data to the quality and scope defined in our project outcomes?
  • Are we empowering community leadership and connections through the program in different areas?

The KEQs help us review the outcomes of the project and set us up to plan for ways to improve where needed. I felt comfortable with this process because of its similarities with the policy cycle–the Australian and Queensland governments created an agenda to address threats the reef, collaborated with stakeholders to formulate potential solutions, implemented strategies to bring awareness to and target threats, and set up a process of evaluation to measure the effectiveness of the implemented strategies.

Overall, MangroveWatch met all of the goals outlined in the initial grant application to the Reef Trust. The full analysis report will be out in May once all the data has been analyzed by the coastal ecologists at James Cook University and TropWater. This report will give us a better understanding of the value of the shoreline data and new goals that should be set for the upcoming monitoring season.

 

Continuing Progress

I noticed lessons from my CEP experience regularly arise during my time interning with CAFNEC. I felt competent in offering various perspectives that I gained from the first-year courses and I definitely applied my time management skills to take on multiple tasks in and outside of the office.

In turn, helping with the monitoring and evaluation plan for MangroveWatch has guided me in my own capstone research and has given me insight to the behind the scene processes and challenges citizen science conservation projects encounter.

Thankfully, I will continue fulfilling a role at CAFNEC as the new Projects and Events Coordinator starting mid-February. I look forward to continuing my work with MangroveWatch and managing all of the other projects at CAFNEC.

Undoubtedly, Bard CEP has provided me with the tools and knowledge that allowed me to progress in my career goals within the conservation world.

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