Environment Agency smartphone app teaches pupils biodiversity

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi has launched a new smartphone app to help students learn more about animals and plants.

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ABU DHABI // A smartphone application is encouraging youngsters to learn more about the plants and animals that live around them.

After training 30 students in how to use the specially designed app last month, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, or Ead, is planning on extending it to pupils from 20 more schools next year.

The application has been designed from a tool Ead scientists use when carrying out terrestrial biodiversity surveys.

It enables users to download pictures of animals and plants and transfer the information to a central database. They are asked to provide a short description with each picture.

And as smartphones are equipped with GPS systems, the location of the animal or plant sighting is also recorded.

Gayatri Raghwa, outreach programme senior specialist at Ead, said the application would make use of teenagers’ love of technology, while encouraging them to pay more attention to the natural world.

“They took to it like fish to water,” said Mrs Raghwa, adding it was much easier to train the pupils, who are all in Grades 9 to 12, than their teachers.

She said while young people were generally comfortable using new technology, they tended to spend little time outdoors. She hoped the programme may change this.

“All these children, on their way to school, see a lot of animals and plants,” Mrs Raghwa said. “We are encouraging them to look closer.”

Next month Ead is launching a month-long competition challenging the students to record 100 animal and plant species before February.

Mrs Raghwa said the pupils were already using the app in audits of their school buildings, as part of Ead’s Sustainable Schools Initiative.

Ead will gain from the programme as it will allow data to be gathered and placed on a map of Abu Dhabi.

“We will be able to see everything on a map and then we will be able to recognise patterns and make comparisons,” Mrs Raghwa said.

Ead is eventually planning on extending the programme to all 120 schools in its sustainable schools programme.