Immediately after I took up underwater photography, I set out to look for an online service that would help me identify the myriad coral species, fish, mollusks, etc., that I was collecting. I found several sites right away, but the one that I cottoned to was Whats That Fish! (or “WTF” … lol!).
The folks behind WTF actively interact with their site’s contributors and users, and go out of their way to assist in getting marine plants and animals identified. Their database is quite huge, and already makes it to front-page search results on Google. I’ve come to know the names of dozens of marine species, thanks to them. Beyond basic data, each entry has photographs, habitat information, geographical distribution data…. And I appreciate it a lot that the site is dedicated to marine life exclusively — this makes searching for, say, nudibranchs’ names so much easier.
A similar knowledgebase is the Encyclopedia of Life, which appears to have a much more extensive and detailed database. Personally, though, I think that site is more for science buffs.
The online resource, however, that is very much attuned to the present-day Web is Project Noah. It is a crowd-sourced global collection of plants, mammals, reptiles, etc. — that is, pictures of wildlife taken by the site’s members. Project Noah has successfully created a Web presence where members can possess a true sense of stakeholdership.
Through member “spottings” (site submissions of wildlife photos are called that), Project Noah aims to document wildlife and make the growing database available to the online public. Each spotting can have up to 5 pictures and a video (via Youtube or Vimeo); a section each for description, habitat and personal notes; an interactive locator map (c/o Google Maps); and links to external references. There is also a method for suggesting species identification on a per-spotting basis. Members are able to tag — i.e., attach keywords to — their spottings, and indicate the date the photos were taken. Plus, spottings can be included in Missions.
Now, that’s what attracted me to Project Noah. You see, when I had gotten for myself a fair-sized collection of marine life pictures, I needed a way to organize them meaningfully, and to showcase them to the world as having come from the Davao Gulf. Project Noah’s Missions feature now lets members do just that: to create a more cohesive archive that can be made more specific according to taxonomy and/or geography.
I have created two Missions so far: Davao Gulf Marine Life and Philippine Coral Survey. The first mission is for spottings of any marine life found within the Gulf of Davao, and is meant to become a definitive resource for such.
The second is for the hundreds of coral species found in Philippine seas. Beyond data accumulation, the ultimate objective of this mission is to create awareness of the beautiful and precious marine life we have underwater. With awareness, it has been said, comes action. I sincerely hope that, with more and more people becoming aware of the plight of our coral reefs through Project Noah and other websites, the campaign to protect these valuable natural resources would gain more momentum.
To make the site fun to use, Project Noah awards badges to its members. For example, once you’ve posted 100 spottings, you’ll receive the “Explorer” badge. Or if you focused on, say, shrimp and crab pictures, you might get the “Arthropod Specialist” badge (shown here).
Recently, I got a very special badge. One of the creators of Project Noah emailed and invited me to become one of their Project Rangers.
It’s really clever what the Project Noah creators have accomplished. The meat of the site — the wildlife pictures with their associated information and metadata — are all sourced from members. Management of the information, as well, has been accorded to a dedicated group of members. These things make for a true 21st-century Web application. (There’s even a mobile app!)
Project Rangers, much like park rangers, are tasked to ensure that Project Noah guidelines are followed. Information does need to be kept reasonably organized in order for it to be meaningful to anyone, right? Also, sometimes a need arises to “police” wayward members. Spam submissions have been known to happen, as well as cases of ‘mistaken identity’, hence the need for active Project Rangers.
My own collection of marine wildlife on Project Noah can be viewed here. I hope you will create an account, too. And if you’re into marine wildlife, please join the two missions mentioned above.
By the way, “Noah” stands for Networked Organisms And Habitats. Neat, huh?