Deobscuring Tasmanian species

As the main part of my job at the ALA, I'm working with iNat data on both the iNat and ALA ends. Under the National Framework for Restricted Access Species Data, we're trying to act consistently with the framework and make iNaturalist consistent with the state and territory sensitivity lists. Recently, Tasmania's Department of Natural Resources and Environment requested that most Tasmanian species currently being auto-obscured on iNat have their locations opened up. Some of you may have noticed, but I completed this task last week. Some explanations for the situation:

1 . Perhaps the most important point here is to clarify how obscuration works on iNat just for the benefit of those who aren't completely familiar with the process.

a) When an observation is obscured on iNat, the true coordinates entered by the observer are randomly scrambled into a ~500 sq. km box around them. Any other user viewing that record will see the randomly generated coordinates with a box around them; they know the true coordinates are somewhere inside that box, but not the actual location. In addition to the coordinates, the date and time are also removed from the observation, so that only the month and year are displayed. Further, any identifications added to the record will have their timestamp altered to also only show the month and year.
b) When these records get exported to the ALA each week, the obscuration accompanies them, so the records are also obscured in the ALA, ie the coordinates shown in the ALA are the randomly generated ones, and the coordinate uncertainty is listed as somewhere around 29,000-30,000 m.
c) There are many different channels for getting access to the true coordinates if you're a researcher, land manager etc. I won't list them all here, but they include having users 'trust' you on iNat (can be turned on in profile settings) or directly requesting the data from the ALA (the true coordinates do go into the ALA, it's just that they are not made publicly available). So locations of obscured records are by no means lost, just more difficult to access. Also, when updates to coordinates/obscuration are made on iNat, these changes are automatically reflected in the ALA after a week or so.
d) There are two different types of obscuration on iNat.
i . Geoprivacy refers to users manually obscuring their own records. This is done at an individual observation level.
ii . Taxon geoprivacy refers to the automatic obscuration of records by the system. This is done at a taxon level.

2 . Crucial point: any records that you have manually obscured have not been deobscured. This only applies to species that were getting automatically obscured by the system.

3 . The majority of Tasmanian species that were being auto-obscured on iNat before last week fell into one (or both) of two categories:
a) They were being obscured due to IUCN conservation statuses of near threatened, vulnerable, etc. Many of these statuses (for Tasmanian species, and for species in other Australian states) do not correlate with Australian statuses. In particular, there are many species that have been assigned IUCN statuses based on their specific criteria, but do not have any federal or state status in Australia. A lot of these species have been obscured on iNat for a number of years.
b) They were being obscured due to a Tasmania-specific status added earlier this year. The application of the status was correct nominally, but obscuration was accidentally applied when they should have remained open.

4 . So last week, I went through and deobscured close to 600 Tasmanian species that were being auto-obscured, but which Tasmania's Department of Natural Resources and Environment requested to be open. These decisions would have been based on the nature of the threats involved; if a species is threatened by eg increased fire regimes due to climate change, obscuration serves no purpose, and in fact is likely to be detrimental by adding extra steps for researchers to access location data.

5 . The following species have remained obscured on explicit request of the department:
a) Lomatia tasmanica

b) Prasophyllum taphanyx

c) Caladenia vulgaris var. nunguensis

d) Thymichthys politus

In addition to these, there are another 20-25 or so species occurring in Tasmania that are currently being auto-obscured across all observations, however, these are due to IUCN statuses, and I will be removing these soon.

tagging the top Tasmanian observers and identifiers:
@mftasp @wildroo @mattintas @simongrove @elainemcdonald @ben_travaglini @jggbrown @lukemcooo @george_seagull @reiner @jason_graham @annabelc @sofiazed1 @corunastylis @benkurek__ @nicfit @gumnut @tony_d @ttsquid @kallies @kevinbonham @tas56 @elusiveorchids @cowirrie @tasmanian_cryptofauna @george_vaughan @peggydnew

as always, please feel free to tag others that may be interested

Posted on November 17, 2023 03:20 AM by thebeachcomber thebeachcomber


Great stuff, thanks very much @thebeachcomber

Posted by jason_graham 8 months ago

@nva_admin : does this free you from the need to manually import CSV coordinates of vulnerable species observations? Unless they're of the four species named here?

Posted by cowirrie 8 months ago

Thanks for the clear explanation and for making the changes. Makes sense for iNat to be consistent with NVA in not automatically obscuring threatened taxa. Also good to know ALA does get the true coordinates for obscured observations on iNat, this is so important for researchers and management agencies.
As an aside, there are legitimate reasons for obscuring locations on iNat in many cases but there are users who routinely obscure all observations, including common species on public land, and I don't waste my time IDing those when I see so little public benefit :)

Posted by nicfit 8 months ago

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