Measuring change

Supporting conservation and sustainable use in tropical marine environments

AIMS conducts extensive monitoring and research to support marine environmental reporting and decision-making by government, industry and other stakeholders. We develop and apply advanced technologies to monitor coral reef systems, water quality, weather and ocean conditions and large marine animals across Australia’s tropical waters. The monitoring supports conservation and sustainable use by setting baselines, reporting changes and trends, and providing data for management evaluation.

AIMS is the leading provider of information and knowledge on the status of reefs in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA). We operate the AIMS Long-term Monitoring Program, which has documented a 27-year decline of coral cover caused by disturbances such as crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, cyclones, coral bleaching and disease. The program also monitors the effects of the 2004 Great Barrier Reef Marine Park re-zoning plan, and underpins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) Outlook reports. Under the Reef 2050 Plan, AIMS is helping to develop an integrated monitoring program for the Reef. We also conduct long-term monitoring at Western Australia’s Scott Reef to understand the natural variability of these isolated fish and coral communities, and their resilience to events such as cyclones.

The AIMS coral core collection provides a natural historical record that shows how corals might respond to ongoing climate change. This information contributes to global climate models, and AIMS research into coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and variability of the Leeuwin Current off Western Australia.

Environmental monitoring

In 2005, AIMS became a partner in the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, an initiative to halt and reverse the decline in water quality entering the Reef. This program monitors water quality in the GBR lagoon and the condition of inshore coral reefs, and extends a long-term chlorophyll monitoring program established by GBRMPA in 1992.

AIMS facilitates the Queensland and Western Australian nodes of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (Q-IMOS and WA-IMOS) which uses innovative technology to measure large-scale coastal and ocean physics, chemistry and biology. Australia’s marine and climate science community accesses IMOS data via the Australian Ocean Data Network.

Weather patterns have a strong influence on the dynamic patchwork on life in the ocean. AIMS monitors weather conditions at 16 stations across the Great Barrier Reef from Torres Strait to Heron Island, as well as at Darwin, NT, and Ningaloo Reef, WA. The weather stations record air temperature, wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure, water temperatures and photosynthetically active radiation. Several stations also have above and below-water cameras.

AIMS Monitoring data and other research information is available on eAtlas and the AIMS Data Catalogue. AIMS developed the eAtlas data management and interactive mapping system to report on the health and significance of marine reserves in northern Australia and promote the collaborative work of management agencies, researchers, reef-based industries and the community.