PADI®, the world’s leading scuba diver organization, is teaming up with Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef on a first-of-its-kind citizen science project to help protect the earth’s largest reef system. The Great Reef Census provides opportunity for divers everywhere to impact the long-term health of one of the most iconic dive destinations on the planet through online image analysis.
“As the impacts of climate change and other threats accelerate around the world, there is an urgent need to scale-up conservation efforts globally, which requires everyone to take part,” says Andy Ridley, CEO of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef. “The global dive community is in a unique position to support these efforts with the skills, passion and knowledge needed to support marine conservation efforts.”
From October to December 2020, divers, dive boats, marine tourism operators and others in the reef community were mobilized to create a makeshift research flotilla. Their mission: to capture large-scale reconnaissance data and images from across Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Dive crew, scientists, tourists and conservation groups volunteered hundreds of hours and surveyed more than 160 reefs from the tip of Cape York to the remote southern Swains. Over 13,000 images were captured and uploaded to the Great Reef Census platform to be analyzed.
“As PADI scuba divers and professionals, we are all ambassadors for our oceans,” said Michelle Barry, a PADI Master Scuba Diverä Trainer based on the Great Barrier Reef. “The Great Reef Census is a ground-breaking idea for ocean conservation that is inclusive of anyone with access to the internet. This allows people all around the world to visit the Reef virtually and to be part of an important project to protect it.”
PADI and Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef are calling upon divers worldwide, and all who care about the future of the ocean, to help turn these images into meaningful data, helping scientists and managers better understand the health of the reef system. Each image can be analyzed by anyone, anywhere, with internet access and a few minutes to spare.
“This is the future of conservation on the Great Barrier Reef. This is where anyone can show that they care,” says Russell Hosp, PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, Environmental Manager and Master Reef Guide at Passions of Paradise, a PADI dive operator in Cairns, Australia. “If people are really serious about saving the Great Barrier Reef, this is their chance to go to greatreefcensus.org, stick their hand up and say, ‘Yes, I want to be part of the solution.’”
The Great Reef Census is the first to test the effectiveness of mass-scale engagement in a significant underwater research project. If proven successful, the model can be rolled out across the world, providing real-time status updates for the planet’s treasured reefs. And, ultimately, serving as an influential tool to establish greater legal protections for coral reefs worldwide.
“Divers have long understood the value of citizen science and their unique ability to witness and report changes to underwater environments,” says Kristin Valette-Wirth, Chief Brand and Membership Officer for PADI Worldwide. Programs like Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris® continue to effectively provide data to influence policy changes for increased ocean protections.
“Many of us may not be able to travel to or dive the reef right now but, regardless of circumstance, we can contribute to its future – and ultimately the future of other reef systems around the world,” continues Valette-Wirth.
From climate change to marine pollution and deforestation, the pressures on global ecosystems are accelerating rapidly. The Great Barrier Reef has experienced three mass coral bleaching events in the last five years, meaning traditional management and monitoring resources are becoming increasingly stretched.
“One of the greatest challenges to the Great Barrier Reef is that much of the world believes it’s already gone. But the Reef is massive, the same size as Germany, so the reality is it’s a patchwork system of incredibly healthy, degraded and recovering reefs,” said Ridley.
Only five to 10 percent of the Great Barrier Reef is regularly surveyed, the Great Reef Census is designed to help fill critical gaps in our knowledge of how individual reefs are coping with stresses and has already returned valuable data.
All are encouraged to get involved in the survey at greatreefcensus.org.