Personnel Image

Written By

Mykala Wright


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

17 May 2022

Play to save the planet

We depend on biodiversity for the foods we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and the medications we take. And our dependence goes beyond the consumption of resources; biodiversity plays an important role in cultural connections, disease transmission and climate regulation. It is essential to the survival of humanity, and it is currently experiencing an unprecedented decline.

Biodiversity refers to the variety of all living things on Earth; the different plant, bacteria and animal species, their different genetic compositions, and the different ecosystems they form. Human activities — such as pollution, habitat destruction and overexploitation — are driving local losses and worldwide extinctions of species.

Co-Founder and Chair of EarthGuardians.LIFE, Andrew Robinson, is on a mission to invest in biodiversity and raise the value of nature in society through innovative technology.

“Biodiversity is the most valuable asset on Earth, and we need to treat it as a valuable asset,” Andrew says. “Too many people consider nature a free resource, but it’s not. Globally, the services delivered by biodiversity are worth over $100 trillion. At EarthGuardians.LIFE we want to connect people to nature through technology for the purpose of saving life on Earth.”

One of the ways that EarthGuardians.LIFE does this is through one of their enviro-tech start-ups, QuestaGame. Based out of the JCU Ideas Lab, QuestaGame is a free app that harnesses the power of community science. The game takes players outdoors to identify and photograph flora and fauna, with the goal of submitting as many sightings of different species as possible. Once sightings are verified by the community, they are added to the global diversity map and players are awarded points.

“QuestaGame is a data collection tool that helps create a map of every species of life on Earth. And by having that map we can make decisions about what needs protection and how to protect what is valuable,” Andrew says.

Andrew playing QuestaGame with children and their parents.

Supplied by David Haynes.

An ecosystem of entrepreneurs

The JCU Ideas Lab, based on the JCU Cairns, Nguma-bada campus, Smithfield is a centre for creation, connection and collaboration. The facility brings together students, staff and industry innovators who turn ideas into products and services that drive economic growth in Far North Queensland.

Andrew says this atmosphere, and the fact that Cairns is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, makes it the perfect place for their headquarters.

“The JCU Ideas Lab community is a great ecosystem of entrepreneurs, innovative people, government and education,” he says. “It brings all of these people together to create a space for innovation. And that’s how you grow economies, through innovation.”

Andrew says JCU is a critical part of this flourishing ecosystem and wants to support the region’s enviro-tech innovations reach the rest of the world.

“JCU students are going to be the people who are creating these new technologies. At EarthGuardians.LIFE, we want to help fund these local start-ups that share our mission of wanting to save life on Earth, to get them off the ground and to help them grow rapidly and globally,” he says. “Far North Queensland is quickly becoming the hub of enviro-tech globally. It’s a place people come not only to admire nature and biodiversity, but to help protect it; it's becoming the Silicon Valley of biodiversity.”

Capturing an image of a kookaburra for a QuestaGame species submission.

Supplied by David Haynes.

Setting your sights on species

Since its launch in 2014, QuestaGame has generated over 2.5 million observation records and verified identifications of plants, animals and fungi.

It is the largest daily provider of expert-verified species data in Australia. The data is shared with national and global biodiversity data repositories for scientific research, monitoring and conservation.

"QuestaGame data has been cited in over 600 scientific papers. It has given us a lot of information about invasive species, and a species that is undescribed by science is discovered every few days through the app,” Andrew says.

QuestaGame uses the BioExpertise Engine (BEE), another of its proprietary technologies, to accurately verify sightings submitted by players. Anyone with an account in the app can identify a sighting, but identifications are weighted according to player expertise levels. New species sightings are sent to experts — highly ranked players — to ensure accuracy and efficiency.

“Players have an expertise level ranking in each category of life. So, they might be really highly ranked in butterflies or spiders, but low ranked in birds. This means that as they give their feedback on sightings, the system looks at their ranking and determines how much weight to give their expertise in the peer review process,” Andrew says.

The more sightings players identify correctly, the higher their ranking becomes and the more interesting or challenging sightings the BEE system will send them. Andrew highlights that the game is an educational tool with a wide variety of players; some began playing with very little biodiversity knowledge and have grown into experts who can now reliably identify many different species.

“QuestaGame has a lot of level 10 experts who work in museums and universities, but also amateurs who don’t have a profession in this field but really know their biodiversity,” he says.

Players are rewarded for their knowledge; while most play for the fun of the game and the helper’s high of contributing to biodiversity preservation, players also earn money for their identifications — currently averaging about $0.05 per correct ID, but the amount depends on market demand.

Until recently, this revenue was distributed to non-profit conservation organisations selected by the community. But Andrew is practical about raising the value of nature, so to enable individual players to earn money, EarthGuardians.LIFE is developing a new extended reality Play-Earn-Protect (PEP) game called Guardians of Earth, along with a new cryptocurrency called BioToken.

BioToken is a blockchain-based currency which people earn for their ecological expertise. These tokens can be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin or Ether, as more trading pairs become available.

“BioToken is the world’s first fully measurable and verifiable biodiversity tokenisation. It’s designed to raise the economic value of the environment and it’s all about investing in biodiversity and treating it like the valuable asset that it really is,” Andrew says.

JCU Alumni David Witherall playing QuestaGame.
A close up of a peacock spider (Maratus elephans) with a red and blue body.
Left: JCU Alumni David Witherall playing QuestaGame. Right: A peacock spider (Maratus elephans) species submission by player ShinyLizard. Supplied by David Witherall & David Haynes.

University BioQuest

In 2017, two universities used the QuestaGame app to see who could spot, identify and map the most biodiversity over a one-month period. The following year, 20 universities from all over the world were competing against one another.

Now, four years later, QuestaGame’s University BioQuest is a global competition empowering and engaging over 20 universities to look closely at and learn about the nature surrounding them. During April and August, students and staff are tasked with submitting as many species sightings as possible to earn points for their university, with the year’s winner being announced following the completion of round two in August.

Last year, JCU’s team placed 3rd. This year, keen ecologist and JCU Alumni, David Witherall, is playing on the team and hoping to boost JCU into 1st place. Having studied a Bachelor of Science, David says the University BioQuest is a fun and interactive tool for environmental education.

“To win this game, you have to learn. Initiatives like this encourage people, especially the next generation, to get out of the classroom or office and experience the wonders of nature while contributing to keeping biodiversity alive,” he says. “As a society and as humanity, we’ve developed so quickly and a lot of us have forgotten that we really enjoy being in nature, surrounded by greenery and that it’s really healthy for us. QuestaGame is the perfect tool to remind us of this; players are active and engaged, and the competition creates a connection that changes how they look at the environment.”

While the purpose of the University BioQuest is to map flora and fauna and produce scientific data, initiatives that incorporate community science and educate the broader public often inspire meaningful engagement and support for conservation efforts.

“There are many people who love the environment, and they see it suffering and they want to help but they don’t know how,” David says. “This is it. Playing this game might not seem like much, but it shows the decision makers and the politicians that people really care about biodiversity and our natural heritage, and we want to help protect those things.”

To help save life on Earth and keep JCU’s team climbing higher on the leaderboard, you can download the QuestaGame app, register for the university’s team and start submitting sightings of flora and fauna during the competition's next round in August.

A graphic from the new Guardians of Earth game by EarthGuardians.LIFE.

Supplied by David Haynes.

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