Marine Monitoring Program

The Marine Monitoring Program was established in 2005 to monitor the health of the inshore Great Barrier Reef, including water quality, seagrass and coral reef ecosystems. The program’s objective is to assess trends in ecosystem health, and resilience indicators for the Reef in relation to water quality and its linkages to end-of-catchment loads.

The Marine Monitoring Program is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, with funding from the Department of the Environment and Energy and co-funding from research partners. Monitoring is conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, James Cook University, University of Queensland, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Reef Catchments, and community volunteers.

The Marine Monitoring Program annual reports also interpret information from a range of other programs including Seagrass Watch, AIMS Long Term Monitoring Program, ports data, and Reef Health and Impact Surveys.

Results for 2015-16

Overall the Reef’s inshore marine environment was in moderate condition during 2015-16. The Report Card 2016 was released in October 2017.

Inshore water quality was moderate overall. Regional water quality was assessed as 'good' in Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Burnett Mary regions, partly due to an absence of tropical cyclones, and below average rainfall and freshwater discharge.

Inshore seagrass meadows showed slight improvements in condition for some indicators, but remained poor overall. Seagrass cover continued to improve in the Cape York, Wet Tropics, Mackay, Whitsundays, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions, and has declined slightly in the Burdekin region.

Inshore coral reefs south of the Wet Tropics region were in moderate condition in 2015-16. The 2016 bleaching event severely impacted the far northern and northern regions of the Reef from the tip of Cape York to Port Douglas. The full extent of 2017 bleaching impacts is being studied and will be detailed in future report cards.

A year relatively free of disturbances in the area monitored by the program allowed coral and seagrass communities time to recover from the effects of multiple severe weather events that occurred in previous years (especially 2007-2012). Recovery is in the early stages and the impacts of severe tropical cyclones on the Reef may last for decades, and it may take many years for diverse seagrass and coral communities to re-establish.

More information is available from the annual Marine Results reports. The annual Summary Report provides a short overview of the key findings.

Annual reports provide detailed scientific information on the condition and trend of inshore water quality, coral reefs and seagrass meadows.

Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan

The Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan is a joint Australian and Queensland government initiative aiming to improve the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef from broad-scale land-use.

Information on marine ecosystem health collected in the Marine Monitoring Program is combined with data collected at the paddock and catchment level (on ground cover, catchment loads, and land management practices) as part of the Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program.

The objective of the Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program is to measure and report on progress towards Reef Plan's goal and targets through annual report cards, which are published every year.

Information from the Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program also feeds into the overarching Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program.

Improving marine indicators

The Marine Monitoring Program is committed to continuous improvement. Methods for monitoring and reporting are updated as new information becomes available and scientists determine better ways of assessing key indicators of marine ecosystem health. For example, this year improved measurements of indicators for marine water quality commenced, which will be continued in the National Environmental Science Program Tropical Water Quality Hub project 3.2.5: Testing and implementation of the water quality metric for the 2017 and 2018 reef report cards.