A Blue Hole Expedition May Help Save the Great Barrier Reef

Ambitious reef-wide health check could provide valuable information to save the largest barrier reef.

A remote site of healthy coral discovered by Daydream Island Resort will be surveyed as part of a major pilot project to help conserve and protect Great Barrier Reef.

Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, led by Earth Hour founder Andy Ridley, are developing the pilot project for one of the world's largest collaborative scientific surveys by exploring as much of the Reef as possible and in doing so provide valuable insights for its future management and conservation as it faces the challenge of climate change.

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Diver Jarrod Scott exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Damian Bennett

The pilot will undertake findings and observations from the Blue Hole, a remote sinkhole surrounded by healthy corals identified by Daydream Island's marine biologist Johnny Gaskell.

If successful, the ambitious project, 'The Great Reef Census' will establish a broad and credible scientific overview identifying the individual reefs that are considered to be driving recovery of the wider ecosystem.

The Great Reef Census also intends to mobilize the global community in the Reef's ongoing protection by challenging how people think about their consumer choices and to show how everyday decisions have consequences for the entire planet.

"To realize a project as challenging as the Great Reef Census, we are going to need the help of people, not just from one end of the Reef to the other, but from all over the world," Ridley said.

"This is one of those moments when you really can help do something good for the planet so sign up to the great reef census project and tell us how you want to be involved, either in the water, helping with the analysis or sharing with the world."

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Diver Jarrod Scott exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Damian Bennett

In partnership with the University of Queensland, the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, GBRMPA and AIMS, the full-scale census is scheduled to take place over an eight-week period, starting in spring 2020 (in the US this would be Autumn).

Last month, Gaskell joined Ridley, Citizens GBR Ambassador & international model Jarrod Scott and world-leading Reef scientist Professor Peter Mumby on an expedition to the Blue Hole to test the methodology for the census.

The team documented their experience surveying the Reef in some of the most pristine, uncharted coral stretches. It was the first full in-water test of the methodology, which successfully delivered clear and crucial outcomes significant to the overall Great Reef Census project.

Gaskell said the census is an important initiative because it will give a better understanding of the current condition of the Great Barrier Reef as a whole at one point in time.

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Diver Jarrod Scott exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Damian Bennett

"It was a real honor to be involved in the pilot project and assist with the development of the methodology for the initial trials alongside Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef," Gaskell said.

"And, to find the corals that we did, made the expedition even more of a success, as they may be among the most important source reefs for coral recruitment in the Great Barrier Reef."

Scott said the group had to battle through intense weather during the 14-hour overnight steam out to the Blue Hole, arriving exhausted just before dawn.

"When we got into the water my mind was blown. We found two key source reefs. The colors and scale of the coral was incredible. To see such pristine, diverse, 100% coral cover without any damage was a massive discovery," he said.

"To pilot the Great Reef Census methodology in uncharted coral stretches and be part of the world's largest collaborative scientific survey that will change the way we view the Great Barrier Reef forever is extremely exciting."

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Diver Jarrod Scott exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Damian Bennett

Spanning 2,300km in length and comprising more than 3,000 individual reefs, surveying the entire Great Barrier Reef is an immense task.

The census will provide broad-scale information on which reefs are damaged, versus those which have high levels of coral to support spatial decision making on which reefs need careful management to ensure that they can help other reefs recover by sending baby corals on ocean currents to multiple reefs downstream.

The collected data will be open-source and freely available to the global community, from researchers to school classrooms. It will also feed back into established marine monitoring and assessment programs such as GBRMPA's Eye on the Reef.