Citizen scientists on the Great Barrier Reef, get involved in Reef Blitz 2023!

A concentrated eight day effort to document biodiversity across the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area kicks off this week, with citizen scientists welcome to participate in “Reef Blitz 2023,” in the water, along the shore or in any place on the planet.

“Reef Blitz is a citizen science event using the app iNaturalist, which is the world’s largest citizen science database,” says Dr Rachelle Brown, a marine scientist at Reef Ecologic, which is spearheading the event.

This year, Reef Blitz will run from 1-8 June in celebration of World Environment Day on June 5 and World Oceans Day on June 8.

A bird standing on a rock near the ocean. Reef blitz
Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) submitted to Reef Blitz 2022. Credit: © dawnborchardt, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)

Citizen scientists can get involved by taking pictures of any kind of wildlife within the GBR World Heritage Area and upload it to the iNaturalist mobile app or website under the Reef Blitz 2023 project.

But you don’t necessarily need to be underwater to participate!

“Some of our observations last year came from bird watchers. Fishers as well can upload pictures of catches or any shells that have washed on shore,” says Brown, who is also the co-organiser of Reef Blitz alongside Dr Adam Smith, Managing Director of Reef Ecologic.

Observations of marine wildlife underwater are underrepresented, so that kind of data is still very much needed.

Close up of an orange stony coral
Hedgehog Corals (Genus Echinopora) submitted to Reef Blitz 2022. Credit: © emilymonacella, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC).

People who can’t get into the field to make observations can still participate too – as identifiers. The Reef Blitz 2023 project page will contain all of the observations from the event, and anyone is welcome to help identify the organisms in the photographs. 

“[When you submit] there’s an initial screen of your picture with AI and it can suggest a species to you. And the real beauty is all the other users of iNaturalist can then look at your observation, look at what it’s been identified as, and either agree or disagree,” says Brown.

“Through that sort of crowdsourcing process, you arrive at a consensus and then that observation becomes research grade.”

The iNaturalist database is open access, so anyone in the public – including scientists and protected area managers – can access it.

A black butterfly settled on a leaf
Purple Crow (Euploea tulliolus) submitted during Reef Blitz 2022. Credit: © dawnborchardt, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)

“It is very helpful because in any research and management type of work, you’re limited in scope for where you can actually collect scientific data. It’s always capped by funding, time, and transportation,” explains Brown.

“So [citizen science] extends that reach by a lot, which is very helpful for managers and scientists who may not have the resources to get this type of widespread data.”

A brief information and training session will be held over Zoom on Wednesday 31 May and throughout the event there will be daily updates on social media to highlight observations and keep a running tally of how many species have been spotted.

And, like Reef Blitz 2022, a summary report will be published with the results.

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