One of the challenges of managing something like the Great Barrier Reef is its sheer size. The world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, covering an area larger than Italy, has 2,900 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays and 150 inshore mangrove islands.
That’s why marine managers encourage community partners and any visitors to the Great Barrier Reef – like you – to play an active role in monitoring the environment. Through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) Eye on the Reef monitoring program (http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/visit-the-reef/eye-on-the-reef), anyone out on the water can collect information on Reef health, the marine life and incidents.
The program has a range of reporting tools designed to suit people with different skills and experience. So whether you’re a tourist or experienced researcher – you can report your Reef sightings and observations to the GBRMPA.
All of the information collected through the Eye on the Reef program is combined into a single data management and reporting system. This gives Marine Park managers and researchers up-to-date information on reef health status and trends, the distribution of protected and iconic species, and early warnings of environmental impacts.
How Can You get Involved?
The easiest way to get involved is to use the Eye on the Reef smartphone app to capture and submit sightings to the GBRMPA. Your sighting could be of wildlife, or an incident such as a stranding or pollution spill, a Crown of Thorns Starfish, a coral bleaching event or even a vessel that appears to be engaged in a questionable activity.
The app is really easy to use and captures the date, time and GPS coordinates automatically. You can select whether to submit a wildlife sighting or incident. For the wildlife sightings, the app has pictures of the different types of wildlife from turtles to clownfish to help you categorise the wildlife and prompts to help you classify an incident. You can also add photos and short videos directly from your smartphone so the people at the GBRMPA can better understand the issue. Last year over 2,000 marine encounter sightings were submitted including over 200 whales, 200 turtles and even 11 whale sharks.
Scuba Divers needed for Rapid Monitoring
If you’re a scuba diver and really keen to be involved in keeping an Eye on the Reef, the Rapid Monitoring activity might just be for you. Registration requires you to complete an online training program, but once registered you can download the two-sided Rapid Monitoring form. The monitoring activity can take place anywhere on the Great Barrier Reef, and has two components:
- a timed swim where you count the sightings of ten types of animals and fish seen in a 10-minute period, followed by a
- 60° survey where you record the state of the coral cover on a circle 5m in radius.
There are colour photographs of everything to look out for on the Rapid Monitoring form – along with instructions – so it’s actually much easier than you might think.
Making a Difference
The submitted data from both the sightings and the Rapid Monitoring are invaluable to the GBRMPA and their research partners in academia and the tourism industry. So far the sightings have been used measure the impact of the Crown of Thorns Starfish control program, assist a Miami University study on coral disease and are helping Griffiths University develop an overall monitoring system. By getting involved you can really make a difference.
Visit the Eye on the Reef website at http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/visit-the-reef/eye-on-the-reef for further information about the Program, including links to the Eye on the Reef monitoring system, the smartphone app and desktop app.
View all the Great Barrier Reef tours available in Australia here.