Citizen science to help save the Great Barrier Reef

  Last updated May 13, 2019 at 11:34 am


An online, interactive reef map will provide scientists with up-to-date information about the current state of the reef and assist in making management decisions.

great barrier reef citizen science reef conservation

Citizen science could help save the Great Barrier Reef

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have put the call out to visitors to the Great Barrier Reef to help them keep an eye on the health of the coral and its inhabitants.

Part of the Virtual Reef Diver project, the public have been asked to upload their own underwater images of the reef. Then, together with the scientists, people can help classify different elements in those images, such as hard coral, algae or sand from their own home.

While sounding trivial, this vital information can be used to make better management decisions.

Additionally, the project allows people who aren’t able to visit the reef the chance to explore it in virtual reality, and discover more about the incredible ecosystem under threat.

Reef is too big to monitor without help

Dr Erin Peterson from QUT, says that scientists face challenges trying to monitor the reef.

“The sheer size of the reef is one of the greatest challenges because it’s difficult and expensive to monitor, which is what is needed in order to identify areas under threat.”

“Providing divers with the platform to geotag and upload their images means we combine their visuals and knowledge with our data intelligence and modelling to provide managers and scientists with up-to-date information about the state of the reef.” she says.

“It means people can provide information about reef health in easily accessible areas so that professional monitoring teams can focus on remote areas, those closed to the public or those areas important for long-term monitoring.

“This gives reef experts and people the ability to work together, with the end result being a much greater amount of useful information about the reef without the added cost.”

Explore the reef through virtual reality

People can also explore virtual reef environments using phone technology and virtual reality (VR) headsets. This allows people to explore the Great Barrier Reef and contribute to its management from anywhere in the world.

“We know how important the reef is to people and we are providing everyone with a platform to help protect its uniqueness even without being there, by providing expertise on coral health and learning more about the reef so they can advocate for its protection,” says Peterson.

“Through the involvement of thousands of citizen scientists, coupled with technology and data intelligence, we will be able to create statistical models across time and space to provide managers with the most up-to-date information based on every bit of data available.

“This predictive modelling will provide a critical decision support system for planning, which means we can intervene more quickly in at-risk areas and help future proof the reef.”


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