Reef Check Australia 2017 17 years of empowering people to save our reefs and oceans

In the face of major challenges for our reefs, we are inspired everyday by the amazing and diverse network of volunteers, collaborators, and supporters working hard to change the world.

What did we do in 2017? Read on to recap some of the awesome achievements that our network has helped to deliver. Big shout out to the huge collective of people and organisations who make it possible.

SURVEYED and reported on findings from 93 reef sites across Queensland, from Port Douglas to the Gold Coast.

In 2017, trained volunteers conducted 93 globally-standardised surveys on 37 reefs, covering 37,200 square metres of reef, and collecting more than 19,800 data points.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the worlds largest coral reef system, but the past several years have clearly highlighted that it is not immune to the mounting pressure from global climate change. 2017 was the second year of mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef--an unwelcome and unprecedented milestone. With a Reef the size of Italy, composed of complex and diverse habitats, even events of this magnitude do not affect the reef equally. That is one of the reasons why you might be reading divergent commentary about reef health in the media. Some areas are healthy and beautiful, some are showing severe degradation from two years of back to back coral bleaching, as well as cyclones and chronic water quality issues. As a system, the Reef urgently needs our help. This means that collecting and sharing data about reef health is particularly critical to understand both disturbance and recovery to target management actions, and also ensure that communities are armed with information to drive positive action to care for reefs.

Citizen scientists collecting data on a severely bleached coral reef in 2017.

On the GBR monitoring sites, bleaching impacts were evident in many northern sites in Port Douglas and Cairns, with large variations between sites and among coral types. In Townsville, the survey team monitored fringing reef sites on Magnetic Island and Middle Reef, reporting lower levels of bleaching than up north (but more algae and sedimentation on these nearshore reefs). We were also excited to establish new survey sites on outer reefs in Townsville including Lodestone, Wheeler and Keeper Reefs, where teams found many reefs in relatively healthy condition. A crown of thorns starfish outbreak was recorded on areas of Lodestone Reef, and both local operators and management are working to reduce the impact on this threat. A survey trip to a variety of Whitsunday Reefs collected data on reefs heavily impacted by Cyclone Debbie, while also visiting a few sites that were protected from the major force of the cyclone.

New coral recruit with plumb bob on a reef substrate survey in 2017.

For the 7th consecutive year, we joined The University of Queensland Remote Sensing Research Centre for another Heron Island expedition, linking citizen science, reef mapping, drones, airborne and satellite data. In an action-packed week, the team surveyed 17 monitoring sites, checked up on coral colour with CoralWatch charts, led a REEFSearch reef walk and helped with an island-wide beach clean-up.

A team returned to survey 5 monitoring sites and set up a new site in Great Sandy Marine Park for the first time since 2014. Known for seasonal humpback whale visitors and beautiful Fraser Island, not many think of coral as a special environmental value in these waters! This area hosts unique subtropical coral communities, just on the border of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, making it an interesting and important area to monitor.

In SE Queensland, we celebrated the 10 year anniversary of our program launch collecting data on these unique subtropical reefs from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast. It's been exciting to see the program emerge as an important and recognised source of long-term data on these beautiful reefs on the doorstep of bustling SEQ. Mission Blue checked in for a follow up story featuring RCA's ongoing work as part of the citizen science movement for Moreton Bay Hope Spot. Hope spots are internationally recognised marine environments that are critical to the health of our oceans.

We were pretty proud to also support a project by UQ's UniDive to undertake intensive seasonal Reef Check surveys, site mapping and CoralWatch surveys at beautiful gem Flinders Reef. So proud in fact, that you can purchase "Flinders", UniDive's beautiful coffee table book showcasing the beauty and diversity of Flinders Reef in our SeaStore, with proceeds going to support more great citizen science in the region!

Um, yeah that's just one of the epic surprises at Flinders Reef, Moreton Bay!

We're looking forward to supporting strong programs in SEQ 2017-2020 with 3 year funding commitments from Sunshine Coast Council, Queensland Government's Community Sustainability Action grant program, and June Canavan Foundation.

It's such an important time for citizen science and community action. While survey teams have seen devastating impacts on some reefs sites this year, they have also had the chance to see plenty of beautiful reefs. These are the places that inspire us. These are the places we can rally behind to help protect for the future. Citizen science can generate more data, act as an early warning system and actively engage communities in looking after their local reefs. We're proud to be part of the ever-growing citizen science movement.

REVEALED results from a two year collaborative project to update the map of Moreton Bay's inshore reef habitat for the first time in a decade.

We worked together with The University of Queensland's Remote Sensing Research Centre and Healthy Waterways and Catchments to translate results from hundreds of reef spot checks to validate habitat type and extent of the fringing reefal areas of Moreton Bay/Quandamooka. Maps have been used to provide coral reef extent assessment for the 2017 Healthy Land and Water Report Card.

Inshore Moreton Bay reef habitat areas guided by spot-check field data collected in 2015 and 2016 on a satellite image (Roelfsema et al 2017). Beautiful background photo at Goat Island, Moreton Bay by Gary Cranitch.

SHARED knowledge, passion and inspiration through the Reef Ambassador program.

Reef Ambassadors are reef role models who actively empower their communities to better understand and help protect marine environments at a local level. The program builds capacity for communities that are informed, engaged and empowered to actively participate in protecting reef health.

In 2017, Ambassadors reached out to the community at 45 community events, directly engaging with thousands of people to let them know about local reefs and how they can get involved in looking after reefs.

In Brisbane, Ambassadors Tania Kenyon and Courtney Morgans worked with a crew of volunteers to launch the Moreton Bay Coast to Coral monthly talk series. This builds on the successful formula from the Sunshine Coast talk series developed last year by Terry Farr and Julie Schubert, which continued growing interest through a diverse range of speakers on regionally-relevant coastal and marine topics in 2017. It's been awesome to see these monthly meet-ups turn into powerful opportunities for people to connect to cool science and other like-minded people in the community!

We piloted a new Reef Ambassador program in Townsville with support from Townsville City Council, and we'll continue building on this initiative in 2018, with another workshop and heaps more community projects. Our Ambassadors helped deliver the first ever Seaside Scavenge event for North Queensland with help from NQ Dry Tropics! We now have a collection of Scavenge resources, so let us know if you are keen for 2018?

We're also thrilled to announce that we'll be building a Reef Ambassador program on the Sunshine Coast in 2018 with support from the June Canavan Foundation!

TRANSLATED marine debris data into communications that help seek solutions across Queensland.

We worked on multiple initiatives to collaborate on marine debris issues, including beach clean ups, and infographics to share the amazing data collected by community groups to support source reduction actions with Tangaroa Blue Foundation. We're keen to look at how to get the word out about stopping debris before it ends up on beaches and in the ocean.

Volunteers collected and reported more than 67,000 litter items from around Townsville and Magnetic Island, from 2008 to 2017. The items here are regularly reported through the Tangaroa Blue Foundation’s Australian Marine Debris Initiative database.

PUBLISHED 2 peer-reviewed papers using Reef Check Australia data.

Making Waves: Citizen Science for Impact (Schlappy et al 2017), documented multiple case studies on our lessons learned through more than 15 years of work in the reef citizen science sector.

Reliability and utility of citizen science reef monitoring data collected by Reef Check Australia, 2002–2015 (Done et al 2017)

TRAINED 23 volunteers in globally-standardised Reef Check methods to empower citizen scientists to collect robust data that builds understanding about reefs and how communities can help.

We truly believe that building capacity for people to appreciate, understand and protect reefs can help change the world. Every training course we run is a chance to support our mission to empower people to save our reefs and oceans.

INVESTIGATED data applications for regional report cards to use citizen science data to inform reef management frameworks and provide locally-relevant stories.

We visited Heron Island with the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health Technical working group to show field sites and discuss citizen science data. A new reporting tool now displays results for long-term hard and soft coral cover data from Heron Island as an interactive map and data display to provide supplementary report card information. This project was supported by the Reef Citizen Science Alliance and XXXX Island Charity Auction proceeds.

The visualisation shows average live coral cover data (hard and soft coral) collected by trained Reef Check Australia (RCA) volunteers, as displayed on the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health website.

We also joined the Townsville Creek to Coral Partnership and are looking forward to contributing to this emerging report card initiative in 2018.

CHAMPIONED ocean heroes at the 2017 Caloundra Music festival.

Sun, surf, soul... and shout outs for ocean heroes! We ran two mega engagement activities at eco-friendly Caloundra Music Festival this year, reaching more than 20,000 people. We celebrated local heroes making a difference for their coastlines and waves through our 50 Years of Ocean Heroes art installation with artist Awkward Chat. From sea turtle champions to Surf Lifesavers, we were inspired by the huge range of people making a huge difference for their ocean community. We also collected hundreds of conservation pledges for the ocean from festival goers, build a movement of everyday heroes to help reefs. Our work on the Sunshine Coast is supported through a long-term community partnership grant with Sunshine Coast Council.

HOSTED the Grey Nurse Shark Watch database to help more people save sharks with their cameras.

Grey Nurse Shark Watch is a citizen science research, monitoring and education program that collects grey nurse shark photos and data from the community. Launched in 2011, GNS Watch aims to collect, analyse and disseminate reliable information to better protect Australia’s grey nurse sharks and will contribute to six of ten objectives of the 2014 National Recovery Plan for the Critically Endangered east coast population.

Some highlights in 2017 include:

- A new collaboration with the University of Queensland’s ‘Masters of Conservation Biology’ course. The collaboration enhanced these passionate future conservation scientists’ understanding of the critical role citizen science can play in conservation management. The collaboration will be repeated in Semester 1 2018.

- Continued to increase volunteer engagement and participation (in water and behind the scenes).

- Obtained approval from SeaLife Sunshine Coast to hold a GNS Watch fundraiser in 2018 and have formed a core event management team... stay tuned!

Grey Nurse Shark Watch continues to connect the community with science and management and this year would like to say and extra special thanks to three key volunteer project officer’s who have been super dedicated to do what they can to help GNS Watch make a difference. Thank you Michaela Rathbone, Amanda Delaforce and Morgan Rubanow.

Grey Nurse Shark photo by Carley Bansemer.

REEFBLITZED with the awesome crew from the Reef Citizen Science Alliance, helping to deliver 8 citizen science events from Cairns to Brisbane in a month of citizen science for the reef from Oct to Nov 2017.

From the Coral Sea to Moreton Bay, Reef Check Australia teams had a flurry of activity engaging community members and schools in citizen science education and data collection activities. In a time of real crisis for our reefs, it was incredibly inspiring to see the partnerships, enthusiasm and data potential from citizen science. We even had the chance to meet Australia's Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel on-board citizen science champions Reef Magic Cruises. The Alliance is hosted by Conservation Volunteers Australia. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation with partner Boeing are founding partners of ReefBlitz.

As part of ReefBlitz, we launched a new survey site at Fitzroy Island, increasing the types of reefs we survey to get a better picture of reef heath in this region. We're looking forward to continuing to expand coverage on this fringing reef location.

We're proud of what we could achieve in 2017 with our ever-inspiring network. There is no doubt about the important role of communities as drivers for positive change to support healthy reefs and oceans. Get involved.

A huge thanks to our incredible volunteers. Much gratitude to our supporters, industry champions, funders, donors, Committees, Board and Staff.

Our 2017 partners & collaborators: Ecosure - Cape Conservation Group - Clean Oceans Australia - Conservation Volunteers Australia - Cooloola Coastcare - CoralWatch - Fitzroy Partnership for River Health - Gold Coast Catchment Management - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority - Grey Nurse Shark Watch - Griffith University - Healthy Waterways and Catchments - Mangrove Watch - Moreton Bay Environmental Education Centre - Quandamooka Festival - Quandamooka Land & Sea Management Agency - Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation - Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services - Reef Ecologic - Seaside Scavenge - Tangaroa Blue Foundation - The University of Queensland: Moreton Bay Research Station, Unidive and Remote Sensing Research Centre

Our industry champions: Adrenalin Dive - Affordable Charters - Base Backpackers Airlie Beach - Big Mama - Cairns Dive Centre - Caloundra Music Festival - Calypso Snorkel & Dive - Caravella - Cruise Whitsundays - Calypso Charters - Cooly Dive - Dance North - Daydream Island - Downunder Dive - Explore Whitsundays - Fantasea Cruising Magnetic - Fitzroy Island Resort - Gold Coast Divers - Heron Island Research Station - Heron Island Resort - Intheloop - Lighten Up - Magnetic Dive - Magnetic Island Nature Conservation Association - Manta Lodge & Scuba Centre - Marlin Bar - Pleasure Divers Magnetic Island - Point Lookout Scuba Charters - Port Douglas Backpackers - Quicksilver - Reef HQ - Reef Magic Cruises - Reef Safari Whitsundays - Scuba World - Sealink - Seaworld Research & Rescue Foundation - Source Bulk Foods Townsville - Sporty's Scuba Diving - St Vincent de Paul Society -Subsurface Scuba - Sunlover Reef Cruises - Supercat Charters - Tropical Journeys - Zig Zag Charters

Our funders: Advance Queensland - Aurizon Community Giving Fund - Burnett Mary Regional Group - Clarke's 'One for Tomorrow' - Healthy Waterways - Lion Property Ltd (XXXX) - NQ Dry Tropics - Queensland Government's Community Sustainability Action grant program, Everyone's Environment Grants, and Department of National Parks, Sport & Racing - Port of Brisbane - Redland City Council - Reef Catchments - Great Barrier Reef Foundation - SEQ Catchments - Stocklands Community Grants - Sunshine Coast Council - Townsville City Council - Townsville Local Marine Advisory Committee

Thank you to Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum for the cover photo from Mudjimba Island, Sunshine Coast.


Thanks to: Gary Cranitch, Jodi Salmond, Gemma Molinaro, Chris Roelfsema, Reef Check Australia Volunteers, Carley Bansemer for photos. Monica Silva Astorga for video editing.

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