Citizen Science Effort Seeks to Survey the Entire Great Barrier Reef

Citizen Science Effort Seeks to Survey the Entire Great Barrier Reef
CITES, the body responsible for overseeing scientific surveys of the planet’s oceans, is launching a citizen science campaign to record where and what the Great Barrier Reef is. What it’s asking: what humans are doing to affect its health.

So far, people from around the world have logged 2.4 million observations—more than 2,000 times more than the previous record set last year. To continue the records, the CITES Institute for the Advancement of Science is calling on a scientific community that includes amateur contributors, scientists, and anyone else who sees a need to document and learn about the reef.

“There is literally a whole sub-team of professionals working on identifying [the reef’s] health needs,” Dr. James Curry, a key researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science told the Times Mirror. “What you’re seeing here is a vibrant field of activity, in pursuit of specific health goals.”


The Great Barrier Reef is the most northerly part of the Great Barrier Reef—an underwater basin that extends across nearly 2,000 square miles. In 2010, 4,000 researchers gathered more than 25 million observations—all revealing organisms and marine life in the reef. By the end of last year, 50 percent of that data were from Australia and another 60 percent came from Brazil. By comparison, scientists who have examined the Gulf of Carpentaria in the past have only found 20 percent of that data. “There’s been no special aquarium involved in this Great Barrier Reef operation,” Dr. Stephen O’Leary, professor at Oxford University, said in a statement. “The only way I would make any reference to education-style assessments would be to compare what’s happening with Britain’s Great Barrier Reef.”

The field of scientific questions is, it’s worth noting, growing exponentially. Research performed in 2010 was only a snapshot of the overall information collected. This year, CITES has decided to release its total citizen science record as a global data set—so that researchers can add what they consider valuable information as they proceed. “I get emailed every day from people saying, ‘I’ve got a question’ or ‘I’ve got a piece of data that I really need,’” Dr. Curry said. “We need to constantly be learning, so we’re recording this information.”

Citizen science, after all, is based on the same theory that the Sea Grant Research Institute developed for other marine life. The system processes published documentation from researchers and artistically manipulate it to display the cultural values of the marine animals and creatures affected. It’s this system that produces arts and curiosities, such as giant sea cucumbers that grow from seawater, or zeppelins that remain buoyant in the wake of jet planes passing overhead.

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About Ann Jaye

Ann Jaye Brown is a 28-year-old resident artist at a studio who enjoys planking, writing and badminton. She is energetic and creative, but can also be very greedy and a bit impatient. She is a British Christian who defines herself as straight. She has a degree in chemistry.

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