20 August 2018
Brain Coral (Diploria cerebriformis) is found on coral reefs around the world. Photo: John Slayer
Brain Coral (Diploria cerebriformis) is found on coral reefs around the world. Photo: John Slayer

The Great Barrier Reef is big, so big that scientists need public help to track its health.

The UQ Global Change Institute is part of an innovative new project that encourages every-day Australians to take part in citizen science in the International Year of the Reef.

Some 2300 kilometres long and covering 350,000 square-kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is bigger than Victoria and Tasmania combined, too big for scientists alone to cover.

Project leader, Dr Erin Peterson, a spatial scientist from Queensland University of Technology said community input was needed to help classify thousands of underwater images of the reef.

“Tell us whether you can see coral, algae or sand, and we’ll be able to get an estimate of the coral cover in that image,” Dr Peterson said.

“This way people sitting at home can contribute to managing the Reef.”

Former XL Catlin Seaview Survey Research Fellow, Dr Manuel Gonzalez-Rivero, now with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said there was a very good reason for researchers to combine 20 years of monitoring data with the new citizen science classification data.

“To strengthen our predictive models of the reef,” he said.

“This will help managers make critical decisions to protect the Reef for the future.”

Virtual Reef Diver is running throughout August and beyond, and anyone with a web-connected computer, tablet or mobile device can join in by going to virtualreef.org.au.

Every five images that members of the public classify during August will count as an entry in a competition to win a GoPro camera.

ABC Science’s Kylie Andrews said that while Australians cared about the Great Barrier Reef only a few of us have experienced it up-close or had the opportunity to look after it.

“Virtual Reef Diver allows anyone in Australia to become a citizen scientist and do their bit to help the Reef,” she said.

Virtual Reef Diver is the online citizen science project for National Science Week 2018, undertaken by ABC Science with funding through the Australian Government’s Inspiring Australia strategy.

The project was developed by Queensland University of Technology, along with several scientific and community organisations.

Seven scientists, divers and science communicators are available for interviews about Virtual Reef Diver, and how you can help better protect the Reef for the future.

Media kit, images, and other resources are available at www.scienceinpublic.com.au.

To organise interviews, contact Suzannah Lyons on suzannah@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0409 689 543, or Tanya Ha on tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0404 083 863

Virtual Reef Diver was developed by Queensland University of Technology in collaboration with the ARC Centre for Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers, the QUT Institute for Future Environments, the CRC for Spatial Information and the Queensland Government’s Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.

Images and other support for the project were provided by Reef Check Australia, the XL Catlin Global Reef Record, the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute and Remote Sensing Research Centre and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

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