Tourists visiting the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) are encouraged to contribute to scientific research by recording coral bleaching upon entering the blue seas to dive or snorkel.
- Scientists need help to collect data on the reef that stretches over 2,000 kilometres
- A coral health chart can be used by travellers to record coral colour when exploring the reef
- The data could be used to make policy decisions
In 2002, the University of Queensland (UQ) launched a CoralWatch citizen science project which hands out charts that help detect the health of the reef.
Almost 6,000 visitors to the GBR have since used the tool to compare the state of coral against the colour chart, and flag deteriorating areas of the reef.
With the world’s largest coral reef stretching over 2,000 kilometres, marine scientists say they need every bit of help to identify threats to the world heritage site that is already under stress.
Dr Chris Roelfsema from UQ said researchers developed the “very simple tool” to involve the hordes of travellers visiting the reef in gathering scientific data.
“We can quickly get even more data from areas where we don’t go ourselves. The Great Barrier Reef especially, it’s so big that it’s very hard to go to all areas in one go,” he said.
“The more people go in the water and look at the reef … the better they would understand what the status of the reef is, and the better they can help managers and monitoring agencies provide information on this.”
Danielle Florens and her daughter Lani Hill swapped their thongs for fins and jumped into the rock pools of Bundaberg on the Southern Great Barrier Reef to fill out the coral chart.
Ms Florens said she had taken her daughter to Coral Cove to “enjoy the beauty of the [reef] and do something to conserve it”.
“I started off as a botanist on land, and I imagine the sea is even richer and more vulnerable because we don’t see it,” she said.
“You have to go and dive to see what’s happening.
“And, yes, I am concerned. Actually, I’ve seen places where the corals are dying because there has been too much erosion.”
Marine biologist Natalie Lobartolo works for a tourism company that takes holidaymakers to the Great Barrier Reef.
As a CoralWatch ambassador, Ms Lobartolo explains to travellers that when coral is “stressed” it starts to lose its colour — a process known as coral bleaching.
She said many visitors were receptive to learning about one of the greatest threats to the reef.
“Tourists can be quite interested because I think the issue of climate change and coral bleaching has been a big topic all around the world,” she said.
“It’s a little bit of a craze at the moment, of ‘voluntourism’. It’s not just tourism. It’s tourism where you’re contributing to something a little bit bigger and your holiday really has so much value.”
The data gathered by citizen scientists is entered into a global database and used to effect change at a policy level.
“Almost 80 countries collect this data … [which has] been used in scientific write-ups [and] projects.
“Then marine park managers can use this as a gauge to see which areas are most at risk or most affected by bleaching events,” Ms Lobartolo said.
“And then they could go and make changes to their management decisions or even at a policy level they might be able to use this data.”
With weather forecast indicating the iconic site could bit hit with another mass bleaching event this summer, Ms Florens said everybody ought to preserve it.
“If we know what’s happening, we are bound to do something,” she said.
Topics: environment, environmental-impact, environmental-management, environmental-policy, oceans-and-reefs, great-barrier-reef, science-and-technology, biology, marine-biology, travel-and-tourism, conservation, marine-parks, bundaberg-4670, qld, gladstone-4680, mackay-4740, cairns-4870, townsville-4810, rockhampton-4700