15 April 2019
There have been several efforts to map the Reef since 1802, but today’s charts only outline the location of 3000 reefs that make up the Reef, lacking critical biological and geomorphological information.
There have been several efforts to map the Reef since 1802, but today’s charts only outline the location of 3000 reefs that make up the Reef, lacking critical biological and geomorphological information.

For the first time, the Great Barrier Reef will be mapped in unprecedented 3D detail thanks to a collaboration between Australia’s lead managers of the Reef and spatial experts.

The University of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are teaming up to use state-of-the-art satellite imagery and other data to map the area that’s bigger in size than Italy.

Dr Chris Roelfsema and Professor Stuart Phinn from UQ’s Remote Sensing Research Centre believe the project is both revolutionary and essential.

“The Great Barrier Reef is the planet’s largest living structure, yet there are no biological or geomorphic maps of all of the individual reefs that make up the Reef,” Dr Roelfsema said.

“There have been several efforts to map the Reef since 1802, but today’s charts only outline the location of 3000 reefs that make up the Reef, lacking critical biological and geomorphological information.

“Thanks to technology advancements, we’re now able to combine state-of-the-art satellite imagery, bathymetry, slope, wave climate data, modelling techniques, as well as our own knowledge of reef environments to fill these gaps.”

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s reef knowledge director Dr Roger Beeden said it was a game changer for Reef management, including how managers look at reef monitoring and restoration.

“This mapping builds on more than 20 years of work by remote sensing experts and combines the knowledge of ecologists, Reef managers and citizen scientists,” he said.

“Developing detailed habitat mapping layers will assist enormously with how we manage the Reef and will underpin all future Reef monitoring and modelling.

“The maps will be used as a base layer in the development of a Reef knowledge system, which is the online visualisation component of the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program.

“The knowledge system will provide access to spatial and technical information to guide and inform resilience-based management decisions.” 

Researcher Dr Eva Kovacs said the satellites passed over the Reef every five days, capturing multi-spectral data at a high spatial resolution.

“Working with one of our project partners, earth observation and environmental services company EOMAP, we’ll combine data from satellites with field validation data to confirm the composition of reefs,” Dr Kovacs said.

“This will allow us to build a highly detailed picture of the mid-shore and outer shelf reefs to a depth of up to 10 metres.

“It is invaluable data for anyone with an interest in the Great Barrier Reef — from government to conservation groups.

“We are incredibly excited about collaborating on this project to deliver history-making maps.”

The new habitat mapping approach will be rolled out over the next 18 months with the maps being available in 2021.

Australian Institute of Marine Science Dr Juan Oritz said, as project partners, they would develop ecological models to generate additional maps.

“We will be using field observations and wave data to create maps of areas likely dominated by different coral types for every individual reef,” Dr Oritz said.

The project will be delivered by The University of Queensland, with support from EOMAP, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program is supported by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust.

Media: Dr Chris Roelfsema, c.roelfsema@uq.edu.au, +61 400 207 401; Dominic Jarvis, dominic.jarvis@uq.edu.au, +61 413 334 924.

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