From mapping habitats for protected species to assessing the extent of coral bleaching, geographic information systems (GIS) have significantly improved the way the Great Barrier Reef is managed.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is today marking GIS Day (16 November) which provides an opportunity for users of geographic information systems to demonstrate and appreciate real-world applications that are making a difference.
General manager Bruce Elliot said GIS is being used every day by the agency and had transformed the way it manages one of the world's greatest natural wonders.
"GIS has the ability to analyse and display spatial information that can provide answers to a whole host of questions, such as where we're likely to find certain species of marine life, to the extent of coral bleaching and where an oil slick is likely to travel," Mr Elliot said.
"This spatial information now underpins everything we do, including enforcement of Marine Park zoning, reef health monitoring, permit application assessments, and our work to improve habitats.
"Ultimately, it enables us to put together a more comprehensive picture about the Reef and its health than any one-dimensional product, like a map, could possibly provide.
"A project to protect Raine Island, the world's largest aggregation site for green turtles, is a recent example of where this technology has made the work of Marine Park managers much more efficient.
"Last year a drone mapped the whole island in less than an hour, capturing a level of detail that will enable managers to monitor changes to the beach profile over time and best direct efforts to redistribute sand to improve nesting and hatching success for green turtles."
Mr Elliot said incidents in recent years, including the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 in 2010 and the Cape Upstart oil spill in 2015, also highlighted the benefit of spatial information.
"GIS enables us to obtain a quick understanding of which areas of the Marine Park may be adversely affected by an incident like an oil spill, because it brings together information such as prevailing currents and the location of sensitive environments and protected species," he said.
"By having this contextual information and using computer modelling, we're better able to identify those areas most at risk and then direct response activities to minimise adverse impacts."
Citizen scientists can also add to spatial information through GBRMPA's Eye on the Reef monitoring program by contributing sightings, photographs and video recordings from around the Marine Park to enable the agency to build its knowledge about the diversity, abundance, habitats and range of marine animals.
In addition, a tool called Reef Explorer is available to the public, enabling users to view Marine Park spatial data sets. This information can also be downloaded through a tool called GeoPortal.
Reef Explorer, GeoPortal and the Eye on the Reef app can be accessed for free through www.gbrmpa.gov.au.