Expanding eyes on the Reef’s health

Keeping an eye on the health of the Great Barrier Reef was the focus of a workshop and in-water training held in the Whitsundays recently.

This was the first of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) 2015 training sessions for marine tourism operators participating in its long-running Eye on the Reef monitoring program.

The Eye on the Reef program collects valuable information about reef health, marine animals and incidents.

People from all walks of life — Marine Park rangers, marine tourism staff, scientists, fishers, tourists and other Reef users — can report their Reef sightings and observations to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Tourism operators are specifically trained to monitor sites weekly.

GBRMPA acting tourism and stewardship director Roger Beeden said training tourism operators to look out for the Reef was important to Marine Park managers because it helped create a picture of overall Reef health.

“The weekly surveys can be completed at frequently-visited tourist hot-spots to get an idea of changes happening over time. This long-term trend data is vital, informing our understanding of Reef health and management actions necessary to protect the ecosystem,” he said.

The tourism training, specifically developed for the tourism industry, teaches operators to complete a weekly survey of what they see on the Reef, including looking for coral bleaching, disease, damage and predation, as well as recording sightings of protected and iconic marine animals.

Dr Beeden said the weekly monitoring program was only one of several surveys.

“If operators are keen to upskill, we can train them to complete other surveys that can be completed at infrequently visited parts of the Marine Park to get a snapshot of its health.”

Dr Beeden encouraged tourism operators to report what they saw, as they are in a unique position to provide data on the Reef because they’re out there, on the water most days, which can lead to intimate knowledge.

“Tourism operators are well-placed to monitor corals,” Dr Beeden said.

“We trained operators at all levels — the main focus is getting people through the door with weekly survey training, but we are also training experienced people in other tools for Reef surveying.”

There’s also an Eye on the Reef smart phone and desktop application for recording sightings of protected and iconic marine animals.

Workshops took place in the southern area (Lady Elliot Island, Bundaberg, Gladstone, Yeppoon and Agnes Waters). Further workshops will be held in Cairns and Port Douglas in March.

For more information or to get involved, check out our Eye on the Reef information or email eyeonthereef@gbrmpa.gov.au