Recently Reef Ecologic hosted a group of enthusiastic citizen scientists at Orpheus Island Research Station in the central region of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef Ecologic Citizen Science and Reef Leadership Workshop was an amazing experience made all the more special by the fact that we were delayed by a couple of weeks due to the recent cyclone threat. The rescheduled event was held amidst amazing weather, sometimes stormy skies, flat calm seas and spectacular underwater visibility.
Participants came from all over Queensland and it was especially exciting to have a really strong youth component as part of the workshop. We had five high school students from Townsville, Bowen and Innisfail, as well as people travelling from all over Queensland including some international visitors.
During the week participants were given training on how to participate in a variety of citizen science programs and learned about different marine life so that they could easily identify and record their observations when in the water. We conducted a number of snorkels at multiple locations around Orpheus Island, Fantome Island and Pelorus Island in the Palm Island group.
At each location participants completed Reef Check Australia surveys, CoralWatch surveys, and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Eye on the reef surveys. Each survey method has a different objective but all of them contribute valuable information on the health of coral reefs. A survey today gives us a snapshot of that reef and over time, repeated surveys enable us to see trends and changes and this information can help support management of the Reef.
One of the most valuable elements of these workshops is the interaction with participants who are extremely enthusiastic about the new understanding they get about coral reefs. But one of the most important parts of these workshops is the connections people make both with nature but also with other people as part of the workshop.
“Surveying healthy reefs and seeing the diversity of marine life was great, especially on snorkel as we could communicate and share information easily.” said Richard Woodgett, experienced photographer “The people have been great fun as there has been a good mix of youth and experience, plus representatives of different organisations to help guide the training”.
Pearl Wood joined as a high school student from Innisfail, taking a few days off school to connect with nature and learn about citizen science. “For me the best part about the workshop was meeting new people and having the opportunity to be out on the ocean everyday because it is what I love. Learning more about the marine world and coral reefs especially was amazing and intriguing. I am inspired to want to do more to protect our ocean” Pearl said.
Innisfail High School Student Pearl Wood in her element underwater during the Citizen Science & Reef Leadership Workshop/
The whole time here at Orpheus Island has has been amazing” said Huon Evans of Townsville Grammar School .”Being surrounded by amazing smart people sharing their knowledge about the reef. I have learned a lot about reef conservation and strategies to protect them. I am feeling pretty blessed to have had this opportunity” Huon said.
Most inspiring for the team at Reef Ecologic were some of the take home messages.
”There’s no point complaining about the state of the world or coral reefs without taking action. These reefs appear to be very vibrant and healthy and that inspires me to want to look after them” Pearl said.
“I loved being in the water and snorkelling” said Ngaro Traditional Owner Milda Oui from Bowen. “Coral reefs are a beautiful place so we need to do all we can to take care of them. it definitely makes a difference if you can go and see it with your own eyes” Milda said.
Ngaro Traditional Owner Milda Oui freediving beside an enormous giant clam.
“I am very happy to have this opportunity and compare the differences in the marine life between here and my home in Brazil” noted International visitor Lucas Battaglin. “I feel blessed to have had this opportunity with everything that is going on in the world at the moment. To connect with nature and great people in a special part of the world has been a nice reminder that magic exists in the world despite the challenges our global community faces” Lucas said.
Citizen Science is a great opportunity for the average person to get involved in marine conservation and make a difference for the health and future of all of our natural ecosystems but especially here in Queensland on the Great Barrier Reef. The networking elements of the workshop are really important and provide great opportunities for people to discover more about themselves and more about other people working or interested in similar fields.
The Integrated Coral Reef Citizen Science Program is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Read more at www.reefecologic.org/project/gbrf-community/