Projects

Development of marine mammal stranding and identification/viewing smartphone apps for the southeast region

End Date: 05/30/14

Objectives

The main goal of our proposed project is to promote and enhance marine mammal and sea turtle conservation in the Southeast U.S. through the development and dissemination of smartphone apps. The GMI/ARA team will meet this goal by achieving the following five objectives:

  1. To design and develop the Marine Mammal Stranding App (for both iOS and Android platforms) that will give users the tools for identifying species and instructions on how to assist a stranded marine mammal. The app will also allow the user to easily submit the essential stranding details (photos, coordinates, etc.) to NOAA’s Stranding Network. The app will capture the geographic location of the user to determine the appropriate contact information and automatically contact the stranding hotline when the user is ready. The user will also be presented with a list of questions pertinent to the stranding to gather consistent information. Users will have the option of capturing photos of the stranded animal using the camera hardware on their devices and then autodialing or emailing the stranding network to transmit the photos and information. The identification guide on the apps will present filtering options to quickly classify a species or allow users to browse all species in the guide.
  2. To design and develop the Marine Mammal Identification/Viewing App (for both iOS and Android platforms) that will use visually appealing graphics and images to inform users of NOAA’s viewing guidelines and the MMPA feeding/harassment regulations and give users tools for identifying marine mammal species in the SE U.S. This app will include the same species identification guide as the stranding app and will provide links to relevant websites, such as NOAA’s Protect Dolphins Campaign and Dolphin SMART websites.
  3. To design and develop the Sea Turtle Stranding App (for both iOS and Android platforms) that will give users the tools for identifying species and instructions on how to assist a stranded sea turtle. The app will also allow the user to easily submit the essential stranding details (photos, coordinates, etc.) to NOAA’s Stranding Network (or other appropriate authorities). (Note that the design and development of this app will be an in-kind contribution from the GMI/ARA team and will be subject to agency approval.)
  4. To test all three apps by implementing a beta testing plan which will allow the apps to be tested throughout the SE U.S. within two months of completing the beta versions of each app. The results of the beta tests will be applied to enhance development of the final versions of the apps.
  5. To disseminate and advertise the apps to the general public and specific user groups through implementation of an extensive outreach program. The GMI/ARA outreach plan will employ nine methods to target over 30 potential user groups and organizations and will include assistance and support from several organizations and individuals with extensive experience in outreach and education.

Methodology

GMI/ARA will meet the objectives listed above by implementing the methods described here.

App Development (Objectives 1-3)—The GMI/ARA team will work closely with NOAA/MASGC to determine all subject-matter data and images that will be needed for the apps and will create the app designs for NOAA review prior to development. We have chosen native apps as the type of smartphone app that will work best for our proposed apps. We propose parallel development of native apps for each device to optimize usability. Due to the potential for “spotty” network access in many of the areas where marine mammal encounters could occur, native apps are more reliable than other app types since they eliminate the need to have network access for the app to function. Network access can still be utilized as needed when available. A native app will store the guidelines, images, and information necessary for the apps, as well as any information that will be required to report information pertaining to a stranding if network access is inaccessible. Further, native apps allow for access and interactions with device features, such as cameras, which is a requirement for the stranding apps. To store the information that will be used in the apps, GMI/ARA will utilize a SQLite database which is supported on both the iOS and Android platforms. By using SQLite, data management routines will be developed only once across both platforms. Building the user interfaces for a common database design will allow for easier expansion of the apps in the future with minimal interface changes. It will also allow information to be accessible on devices, such as the iPod Touch, which may not have network access and can only access the network through Wi-Fi.

Beta Testing (Objective 4)—The initial phase of beta testing will be done ‘in-house’ by GMI/ARA. We will use our resources which are strategically positioned throughout the SE U.S. to test the apps across the region, including remote coastal areas and offshore. In addition, several of our supporters will provide assistance and act as beta testers in their locales. After beta testing is complete, we will release the beta apps to NOAA/MASGC for review testing. After this review period, we will collect all review comments and identified issues, make all final modifications, and work closely with NOAA/MASGC to publish the apps for public consumption.

Outreach (Objective 5)—GMI/ARA’s educational outreach plan will distribute the apps to the general public and specific groups which utilize coastal areas of the Southeast U.S. These individuals are most likely to encounter wild marine mammals at sea and stranded animals along the coastline. Over 30 potential user groups and organizations will be targeted with this plan. Our extensive outreach plan will include nine components including tried-and-true methods and innovative web advertising at virtually no cost to NOAA/MASGC. The components are as follows: 1) develop Quick Response (QR) codes for all apps; 2) use online fishing/boating/water sports/science forums to advertise the apps; 3) add app info to NOAA’s Dolphin SMART training materials and annual renewal documentation; 4) post links to the apps on various websites; 5) use online social media to appeal to the general public by developing a Facebook page and YouTube video for the apps; 6) write a press release; 7) submit press release to National Public Radio stations and other local radio stations; 8) create and disseminate flyers that include information on each app and the QR codes; and 9) submit the press release and the app development as a story to local newspapers and online news sources. Non-profit organizations, stranding coordinators, media groups, and individuals have agreed to support these outreach efforts (see our letters of support).

Rationale

Agency scientists face numerous challenges when trying to first locate stranded marine mammals and sea turtles and then respond to them in a timely manner in order to obtain valuable data and/or initiate rescue/rehabilitation efforts. Data on mortality rates and causes of death of marine mammals/sea turtles are critical to understanding the health of populations and informing management decisions. In addition, quick responses to live stranded animals increase their chance of survival, thus promoting conservation of the species or population. Conservation is also enhanced when tour operators and members of the general public use best practices when encountering marine mammals in the wild. Many people who encounter wild marine mammals do not abide by the MMPA feeding and harassment regulations or NOAA’s viewing guidelines to minimize harassment. Using innovative technology, the general public can actually help federal and state agencies, marine mammal/sea turtle scientists, stranding networks/volunteers, and numerous environmental organizations to conserve marine mammal/turtle species and populations.

The GMI/ARA team will strive to promote protected species conservation by developing and disseminating smartphone apps to enhance accurate and timely reporting of strandings and encourage responsible viewing of marine mammals in the Southeast U.S. The use of smartphone apps to assist in the reporting of stranded marine mammals and sea turtles is an innovative and potentially extremely effective method for increasing the overall number of reports as well as the awareness of the general public. In addition to the stranding apps, the viewing/identification app will inform the public on appropriate ways to enjoy viewing wild marine mammals without harming or harassing them. The GMI/ARA partnership provides an exemplary team of marine scientists and software developers for this project. GMI’s scientists have extensive experience assessing human-dolphin interactions and have been actively involved in promoting NOAA’s guidelines for viewing marine mammals in the wild through research and education/outreach efforts. They have also worked with NOAA’s Stranding Program to increase detections of stranded marine mammals and sea turtles through aerial surveillance surveys. ARA provides modelers and engineers who are dedicated to providing innovative development of technological applications for the general public.  ARA’s professional software developers excel in combining creative graphic design and technologies to develop custom apps for both iPhone and Android platforms. Therefore, the GMI/ARA team provides the perfect blend of expertise with protected species conservation and custom app development to successfully complete the objectives described above. Although the apps cannot solely stop harassment or lead to reports of all stranded animals, we believe the apps will appeal to a wide audience and give NOAA personnel and other stakeholders another method for promoting conservation of protected species.