What do you get if you cross marine science with an adventure on the world’s largest and most spectacular coral reef? Virtual Reef Diver, that’s what!
Scientists have always been challenged by the enormous size, expanse and remoteness of the Great Barrier Reef. They’ve grappled with monitoring a system that’s bigger than the states of Victoria and Tasmania combined, much of which is remote and hard to access.
The Virtual Reef Diver program is a collaboration of science and ecotourism that makes it possible for anyone to contribute to our knowledge of this incredible ecosystem.
The program is bringing the reef experience right into the lounge rooms of eager participants, enabling everyday citizens to identify and classify hard and soft coral, algae and sand using the virtual reality interface. In so doing, they’re making a genuine contribution to scientific research.
How does it work? A clever model takes the information generated by citizens and standardises it into a useful data set that allows spatial scientists to make estimates and predictions of coral cover.
And that’s just the beginning.
The next phase of the project will see citizens, recreational divers and ecotourists able to upload the photos they take whilst exploring the reef. The user-generated database is expected to provide spatial scientists with information far beyond what can be collected using traditional scientific surveys.
Snorkelers and divers on the reef can take photos with simple point-and-shoot cameras and upload them to the Virtual Reef Diver database, giving scientists a reach they could once only have dreamed about.
Meanwhile, the models behind the data analysis will busily fill in the knowledge gaps with predictions of coral cover and health. Over time, the contributions of reef users will start to close the gaps and provide a more complete picture of the reef.