CoralWatch

Yellow coral, Great Barrier Reef

Led by the University of Queensland, CoralWatch is a citizen science initiative to help non-scientist volunteers collect valuable data about the health of their local reefs. The data can help alert reef management groups of potential coral bleaching events. To get involved, you can record the health of corals when out snorkelling or diving the Great Barrier Reef using their simple chart and send this data back to CoralWatch using their free app.

How does it work?

The first step is to order your Do It Yourself Kit which contains a colour coded Coral Health Chart and a data entry slate. Then, when you are out for a snorkel or a dive, you simply match the colour of corals using the Coral Health Chart and enter them on the slate.

Back on the surface, you enter your data straight into the free App, via the Web, or send your completed data entry form back to CoralWatch in the post or by email.

You don’t need to be an expert

The main point of a citizen science initiative is that you don’t need to be a coral expert to use the Health Chart: you simply need to be able to identify four different types of corals: Branching, Boulder, Plate or Soft – and to make it really easy – there are pictures of each type in the Do It Yourself Kit.

Obviously, if you’re a diver you do need good buoyancy control, and the ability to get your chart close to the coral to match the colour chart to the coral, without actually touching it. It’s the perfect activity for your 5m safety stop as it’s important you use natural light to determine the colours accurately. For snorkellers, it’s even easier, as you can simply work your way along the edge of a reef, or over the top of one if the water depth is right.

For each coral head, you record the lightest colour and the darkest colour, and then move on to the next random piece of coral. Two fin kicks following a straight line along a reef gives a great random sample – there’s space for up to 20 entries on the slate.

The easiest and quickest way to send the data back to CoralWatch is via their free App. The data entry screen is colour coded identically to the Coral Health Chart – so there’s no need to type anything – you just tap the coloured buttons.

Why is the data so valuable?

With increasing global ocean warming, coral bleaching is becoming increasingly prevalent. However, coral bleaching doesn’t necessarily result in coral death. By identifying areas where corals are susceptible to bleaching, it might be possible to improve the chances of coral recovery post-bleaching if some of the other stress factors can be addressed.

The data accumulated by CoralWatch is made available to researchers across the world and is used to support many different streams of research. Most importantly though, if your survey indicates that there is a greater than 70 percent likelihood of a possible bleaching event, you will receive an email alert, and you can contact your local reef management group to investigate further.

Get the Do It Yourself Kit

If you’d like the Do It Yourself Kit or even just find out more, head to the CoralWatch website (http://www.coralwatch.org/) where you can order your free Chart, and download most of the information sheets and materials you’ll need.

It’s a global initiative, so many of the materials are available in other languages too, including Bahasa. Every survey counts, so it’s an easy and fun way to do your bit for the Great Barrier Reef.

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