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Citizen scientists mobilise to help the Great Barrier Reef

Friday, 31 May 2019

Source: James Cook University

Citizen scientists will be part of a study to analyse the impact of removing seaweed from coral reefs as part of efforts to help the Great Barrier Reef combat increasing threats.

The initiative comes as James Cook University scientists have renewed their partnership with Earthwatch Australia and Mitsubishi Corporation.

JCU Associate Professor David Bourne said the partnership has been running for eight years, with trained citizen scientists surveying reef damage after Cyclone Yasi and documenting the reef’s recovery.

“The project has investigated the natural processes for coral recovery, identifying which coral types grow back first after a major disturbance and the rate of this recovery,” he said.

Dr Bourne said one of many growing threats to the GBR and reefs around the world is macroalgae (seaweed).

“Due to climate change and increased nutrient loads, macroalgae is growing back first, preventing coral larvae from settling. This project will investigate whether macroalgal removal is a viable option to increase the resilience of some local inshore reefs,” he said.

Dr Bourne said citizen scientists continue to be essential to the success of the project.

Cassandra Nichols, CEO, Earthwatch Australia said: “With many hands, we can gather more scientific data in a shorter time frame to help Dr Bourne and his team. Simultaneously, we engage and inspire members of the public to protect the Great Barrier Reef by immersing them in the scientific experience.” 

JCU’s Hillary Smith is working with Earthwatch Australia to coordinate citizen scientists who will remove macroalgae from inshore reefs around Magnetic Island, just off the coast of Townsville, Queensland.

“It will be thoroughly scientific work, as we will be determining what is the most effective way to remove macroalgae and analysing the ecological benefits and impacts,” she said.

Ms Smith said the information gathered would be of value outside the local area.

“The Magnetic Island region is indicative of some inshore reefs of the GBR, and ideal for a pilot project that could be expanded to similar reef systems along the GBR and globally,” she said.

Ms Smith said that once sites are cleared of algae, baseline data already collected over the past eight years on natural recovery will be used to compare the effectiveness of the intervention strategy.

“Major disturbances are increasing, leaving coral reef ecosystems less time to recover from each one. This work means we’ll have rigorous scientific information to guide reef managers and government policy on how best to cope with the situation and to ensure reefs survive into the future,” Ms Smith said.

If you would like to be part of this innovative research to help the reef, contact Jen Sutfin at Earthwatch Australia jsutfin@earthwatch.org.au

Media contact only:
Ms Hillary Smith (Ms Smith and Dr Bourne work at JCU’s Townsville campus).
M: 0476 563 090

Assoc. Prof. David Bourne
M: 0418 287 616