The Australian Great Barrier Reef is famed as the world’s largest living organism.
It supports one of the most diverse ecosystems in the oceans and is the only one of the earth’s natural wonders visible from space.
Unfortunately, it’s degrading badly through coral bleaching caused either by global warming or pollution or both.
Over 2,300km long and made up of more than 3,000 individual reefs, it is one of the world’s most important natural icons, but only 5-10% of it is regularly surveyed.
The first ever census to discover the actual state of the whole reef was launched on Thursday.
The census takers are not government bureaucrats but people who love the ocean and the reef, who may genuinely be called Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Reef Census citizen science project has recruited dozens of boats to help collect underwater images across 100 priority reefs over the next 10 weeks.
Andy Riley, CEO of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, said the enormous size of the reef means performing the census requires a collective effort.
“To achieve the scale required, the Great Reef Census requires a massive collective effort and that’s what we’re seeing from the tourism industry, to some of the reef’s top scientists, tech companies and reef managers,” he said. “We’re utilising the skills, vessels and knowledge of many passionate people to build a reef-wide research flotilla.”
Competent snorkellers with good cameras can take part. Their photos will be uploaded to the census site over the coming weeks. Citizen scientists from around the world will then analyse the data.
The Great Reef Census website describes the survey as an innovative and world-first citizen science effort. Their rallying cry: “Every boat, every citizen, every reef.”