Sophisticated equipment used to map the sea floor Photo: AIMS

AIMS’s mapping has pioneered the collection of long-term baseline data on the Great Barrier Reef and Australia’s North-West Shelf region through its surveys of fish, corals, mangroves, planktonic communities and reefs.

These data give us insights into broadscale patterns of biodiversity and reef health. Our biggest projects include the Seabed Biodiversity Project, CReefs, Ningaloo Marine Park, the Big Bank Shoals of the Timor Sea and the e-Atlas.

Biodiversity baseline data characterise the initial status of a group of organisms or the biological community in a particular location. This foundation knowledge can be extremely important for identifying changes and determining whether they are due to unusual natural events, such as coral bleaching and warm water, or to human pressures such as overfishing or water pollution.

We are expanding our biodiversity baseline data to new habitats and new groups of organisms, such as the microbial community. The broader dataset gives us greater confidence in the allocation of areas to marine reserves and a better understanding of the functional processes that maintain healthy ecosystems.

Our research

The first step in building a database of biodiversity is to map the distribution of organisms and communities.

Historically, researchers have used surveys, but in the past 20 years geographic information system (GIS) applications, sophisticated mapping analysis and, more recently, the development of predictive spatial modelling have revolutionised AIMS’s ability to collect and collate biodiversity information from marine habitats.

We now combine GIS data management with a variety of remote sensing techniques such as multi-beam acoustics, and hyperspectral and satellite-based mapping, which allow areas to be characterised at different spatial scales.

These data help predict the likely presence of habitat. We then explore key locations with underwater equipment to validate these predictions.

Cameras towed at depth behind a boat or attached to a robotic vehicle are commonly used for recording habitat and biodiversity data from deep water and have produced some spectacular discoveries from Australia's marine parks.

More information:

  • The e-Atlas website includes a mapping service where users can view and explore spatial data across a range of topics.