Scientists want your underwater holiday shots


Happy snaps of the Great Barrier Reef form part of a huge citizen science project. Brian W. Pulling reports.


Donate your favourite reef-dive photos to science, researchers ask.

Donate your favourite reef-dive photos to science, researchers ask.

EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/getty Images

A new program directed by researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is calling on citizen scientists to help experts collect and categorise data to better monitor the Great Barrier Reef.

The Virtual Reef Diver project is the second phase in a larger scheme to collect more data than researchers can alone.

Phase one invites people to log on and examine photos, looking for important features such as coral, algae and fish.

Phase two asks anyone visiting the reef to add to the database by taking a photo of the reef and uploading to the virtual reef website.

By partnering with the public to collect and analyse data, researchers are better able to understand the health of the 348,700 square kilometre reef.

Project leader Erin Peterson says that the Great Barrier Reef is “simply too big for scientists and researchers to monitor it alone”.

“Many of those people who are out on the reef are already taking underwater images. We want them to share that knowledge by uploading their images of the seafloor to the Virtual Reef Diver website.”

The research team hopes to specifically gather information about the location and amount of hard coral as an indicator of reef health.

The website provides guidelines for how to best capture images for analysis, and notes that citizen scientists can use their point-and-shoot or smartphone cameras.

They further advise participants to photograph a one-meter square patch looking straight down at the seafloor, rather than at an angle.

This project is ongoing, and anyone can create an account to observe and categorise existing photos in the database.

Virtual Reef Diver is the result of the collaboration of QUT, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS).

To learn more and contribute to the Virtual Reef project, click here.

  1. http://www.virtualreef.org.au
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