Help monitor the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

28th June 2018

QUT scientists are working with IFE’s Visualisation and eResearch (ViseR) team on an exciting new citizen science project currently in development called Virtual Reef Diver.

Set to be launched in August for National Science Week, Virtual Reef Diver will allow everyday people to contribute to important marine research by classifying images of the Great Barrier Reef online.

To classify a reef image, volunteers identify and categorise what’s underneath 15 randomly placed circles on a photograph of the reef, for example coral, water, sand or algae.

“What we’re trying to do in that is get an understanding of the landscape of the reef. One of the key aspects of reef health is the coral cover and as reefs become less healthy, coral cover can decline,” said Distinguished Professor Kerrie Mengersen, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS).

“Researchers are trying to monitor a huge area, the Great Barrier Reef is 2300km long, so if there are gap areas then we can use our statistical models to guess, but the more people that classify images the better those estimates will be.”

If enough images are classified from Virtual Reef Diver’s extensive image collection, the data generated will allow scientists to monitor and manage reef health by identifying developments such as coral bleaching.

Submitted classifications will be analysed by models that have been built and refined by the scientific team over a number of years. The models will indicate an overall estimate of the health of the Reef, but also allow predictions on a local scale.

“It’s a really good opportunity for people to become involved in the science, and in that way become involved in helping to manage the reef themselves.” said Distinguished Professor Mengersen.

Virtual Reef Diver is a collaboration of QUT, the ABC and ACEMS. It arose out of the Monitoring Through Many Eyes research project developed by a partnership between QUT, ACEMS, the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI), the Queensland Government for Natural Resources and Mines and the Australian Institite for Marine Science (AIMS).

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