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Marine Science



Immersive platform to explore global reef systems

Exploring reefs around the world is now possible without leaving home, with Reef Life Explorer, an interactive platform that tracks global reef health using data collected by citizen science scuba divers.

Launched earlier this month, this initiative of the Reef Life Survey program is an immersive platform that represents an unprecedented global collaboration spanning decades.

Reef Life Survey President and Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) marine ecologist Rick Stuart-Smith said the insights of this unique collaboration between professional and citizen scientists have now been brought to life through an interactive map, developed in partnership with human futures design studio GLIDER.

“Hundreds of citizen scientist divers have surveyed thousands of reefs in a mammoth effort to monitor and track the state of our global reef ecosystems, and our researchers at Reef Life Survey and IMAS at the University of Tasmania have processed and analysed millions of rows of data to present these trends,” Associate Professor Stuart-Smith said.

The new Reef Life Explorer makes the underwater world visible, bringing to life data from more than 26,000 surveys across 4,000 sites in 54 countries and territories, representing almost 5,000 species and over 19 million individual animals.

On the surface, Reef Life Explorer provides an impressive overview of the trends in marine life, but diving deeper reveals the mounting pressure our reefs face from coastal development, seafood consumption, recreation and human-induced climate change.

The impacts of various pressures have all too often been out of sight, below the surface. So by diving in and taking action, citizen scientist scuba divers have done the surveys and collected the data that enables researchers to see and understand the shifting condition of our reefs – reefs that support the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

“Since the project began, we’ve always seen the data we collect underwater as public property, with value far beyond the scientific community.

“We wanted to display the data in a way that would allow anyone with an internet connection and an interest in our oceans to see what’s going on below the surface – and to explore the impacts and trends affecting the health of our reefs, through time,” Associate Professor Stuart-Smith said.

By highlighting the pressures our reefs face, and starting to track and monitor these changes, the platform enables more informed, collective decisions that will help manage and protect these vital ecosystems for future generations.

Founder and Director of GLIDER Lekki Maze said Reef Life Explorer provides an immersive experience in the underwater world, giving unparalleled visibility on the threats facing our reefs by visualising and reflecting the collective effort of thousands.

“It’s a potent reminder that each of us, whether it is as a citizen scientist or a more conscious consumer, can have an impact and help drive change,” Ms Maze said.

Associate Professor Stuart-Smith said Reef Life Explorer was an exceptional platform and had exceeded his team’s expectations.

“Reef Life Explorer is a live, constantly-evolving resource that will continue to grow as the global monitoring effort expands – with more citizen scientist divers and collaborators contributing more data from more reefs around the world,” he said.

“We’re really excited to be sharing this with the world.”

The Reef Life Explorer, and the broader Reef Life Survey activities that underpin it, have been supported by the Ian Potter Foundation, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Vic), State Natural Resource Management Program (WA), the Minderoo Foundation, the Integrated Marine Observing System and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.



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