Citizen Scientists Blitz the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef, a world-heritage area, shared its beauty with over 400 citizen scientists for two days in October this year, as part of Reef Blitz. In one of Australia’s most bio diverse rich regions, the community gathered to identify and collect data on the unique plants and animals living in and around the Reef.
The value of citizen scientists working together for the sustainability of the planet strengthens as more communities engage with Blitz programs across the country. From desert landscapes, to tropical rainforests, programs such as Bush Blitz, Bio Blitz and now Reef Blitz are making ways for new methods of learning.
Despite being home to more plants and animals than any other country on Earth – estimated to total more than 560,000 plant and animal species –only one quarter of Australia’s biodiversity is currently known to science.
Reef Blitz celebrates its inaugural year
The Reef Blitz program is an exciting way of discovering these unknown species through hands-on community engagement. The inaugural event ran over two days, Friday October 24th and Saturday 25th, and engaged 250 school students, 150 members of the public, 50 survey leaders and assistants and a myriad of wonderful volunteers.
The event was launched on Friday morning at Cannonvale Beachwith special guest speaker Honourable Andrew Powell, Minister of Environment and Heritage Protection, who opened the address by recognising the significance of Australia’s coastal ecosystems and the government’s commitment to protecting this important natural resource. The first day was prioritised for local schools, with three different schools taking part in various surveys and activities, including an interactive sustainable fishing game, identifying shells and capturing insects from the surrounding bush. The second day focused on participation from the general public with over 18 surveys on offer covering everything from corals, to rocky shores, to plants, reptiles, birds and insects.
Cassandra Nichols, Director of Programs mentions “Everyone had a positive attitude, from the school groups, to the community, to the politicians; we were all there with the common goal; to discover the Great Barrier Reef’s unique plants and animals and to learn how we can protect them.”
In the two days, 656 observations were made and 191 species have now been identified using iNaturalist, including a very rare spider species (Paratheuma australis) normally found in Hawaii! The program was developed in partnership with Earthwatch and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and supported by the Queensland Government and Qantas.
“Data collected by the volunteers will increase our knowledge and understanding of the Great Barrier Reef and its surrounding habitats. This information will feed into Australian Government conservation plans and ensure we continue to protect and preserve our Reef. But most importantly, the program empowered the local community to become stewards of the environment. It provided them with a sense of ownership for what lives in their very own back yard” said Ms Nichols.
Also reported on:
29th Oct, Whitsunday times ‘ReefBlitz a hit in Cannonvale’
24th Oct, ABC News ‘Scientists look for new discoveries during Reef Blitz’
21st Oct, Whitsundays Times ‘Event to help protect the reef’