A New Approach To Managing Reef Data


In Queensland, Australia, a diverse group of organizations overseeing the Great Barrier Reef are committed to helping Acropora regeneration efforts. But they all need comprehensive maps – not necessarily containing the same information – of the Reef.

In response, a multi-institutional research team has developed a public-access, predictive mapping tool that combines image data from professionals and citizen scientists to predict coral cover. “Citizen scientists, professional scientists, the tourism industry, indigenous communities, multiple sectors of our society are interested and invested in understanding the changes coral reefs are facing,” said Manuel González-Rivero with the Australian Institute of Marine Science. For scientists hoping to seed new Acropora colonies on the reef, for example, it’s important to know where healthy, similar colonies are located. “Once corals release their egg-sperm bundles into the ocean and break apart,” says Alannah Vellacott with the Perry Institute for Marine Science, “fertilization success depends on sperm from one colony finding eggs from another.”

From seeding new colonies to eradicating the voracious crown-of-thorns starfish, which eats coral polyps, reef managers are looking for fine-scale reef information to help develop solutions, González-Rivero told Mongabay. Over time, the interested organizations have collected data on various aspects of the Reef, but their respective datasets differ in type, quality, time period, and spatial extent, so they have never been combined in a single analysis.

Recent modeling work by Erin E. Peterson, a research fellow at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and colleagues promises to address this need. Using predictive statistical models, Peterson, González-Rivero, and colleagues have developed a mapping tool to compile and map photographic data on these hard corals collected and/or classified by professional and citizen scientists. The new tool uses the models to integrate the diverse datasets, assigning values to survey data to account for differences in survey method and quality. The unique modeling approach, detailed in a recent paper, has led to “the most comprehensive map” to date of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), according to Peterson, which will provide users with spatially and temporally explicit information to guide research and management. The push to concentrate data is all part of the Australian government’s Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program with a mission to “create a knowledge system that enables resilience-based adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef and its catchment.”