Counting waterbugs: Why citizen science musters matter

Lisa Wooldridge, Dr Nakia Belmer and Charelle Harkins working together to correctly identify a waterbug.

MACRO Muster, a waterbug data collection and citizen science project run by Bellingen-based environmental charity OzGREEN, has a fresh approach for its sixth iteration.

“We’re doing something a little different this time than our previous musters,” OzGREEN event coordinator Sam Daykin told News Of The Area.

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“We host two musters a year, in May and October, to gain the data our scientist partners have requested.”

The May muster is more of ‘helpers’ activity and is smaller and more intimate than the October one.

“We’re going to have sessions and activities to help people deepen their knowledge.

“We’re really hoping that the people who attend the upcoming May activity will come back and help us grow the October muster into a large-scale event.”

Anyone can attend the free event at Bellingen Showground, participating in the guided collection of aquatic macroinvertebrate (waterbug) data followed by a community dinner.

The aim is for volunteer helpers to become a proactive steward of local rivers.

“This unique opportunity will encourage people who love and use the beautiful Bellinger River catchment to dive into the fascinating world of waterbugs and learn about the very important role they play in keeping our rivers and the species that rely on them healthy, including the critically endangered Bellinger River snapping turtle,” said Sam.

OzGREEN’s macroinvertebrate monitoring program is one of the largest of its kind in Australia.

This immersive learning experience guided by scientists and volunteer teachers sees community members come together to conduct an accurate count of the waterbugs at six sites across the Bellinger and Kalang catchments.

OzGREEN’s Program Manager, Amy Denshire, said, “We have seen time and time again the power of these events to connect people with their rivers, spark awe and connection with the wider world, and inspire behavioural change.”

“We need to first fall in love with the river and the species that rely on it to then hear the call to protect it and them,” said Amy.

“We are keen to grow our October muster to become a large event to help inspire environmental stewardship on a big scale and support the protection of these rivers into the future.

“The rivers of the Bellinger and Kalang catchments are some of the healthiest in Australia.

“It’s up to our community and tourists to protect what we have.”

No prior experience is needed to join the event.

“Come down, have some fun, and get to know these little creatures that play a big role in the health of our rivers,” Sam said.

“It’s a chance for our community to gain new knowledge and skills and meet new people – plus we all get to share a nice meal together after the waterbug count.”

The May muster is held in the Main Pavilion at Bellingen Showground on 22 May from 3:45pm to 7:30pm, and is suitable for people aged eleven and up.

For more information or to register, visit


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