Monitoring Australia's tropical reefs

Front fringing reef of North Direction Island, GBR - one of the reefs under survey by the Long Term Monitoring Team. Photo: AIMS LTMP

For over 30 years, AIMS has been surveying the health of 47 midshore and offshore reefs across the Great Barrier Reef region. The Long-term Monitoring Program represents the longest continuous record of change in reef communities over such a large geographic area.

What we monitor and why

A team of trained divers surveys fish by underwater visual census, and records corals and other bottom-dwelling organisms along the same sections of reef each visit.

As well as capturing the natural variability of coral and fish populations, the data documents effects of disturbances such as crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, cyclones and bleaching events.

The data also provides awareness of other threats to the reef (such as outbreaks of coral disease) and other issues of concern to reef managers.

A separate component of the program monitors the effects of the 2004 Great Barrier Reef Marine Park re-zoning plan.

Results from the monitoring are regularly reported and used for in-depth analyses in scientific publications. Read the latest annual update of the coral cover trend in the Great Barrier Reef from August 2020.

A crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) consumes its coral prey in shallow water on a reef in the Pompey sector of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: AIMS LTMP

Inshore reef monitoring through the Marine Monitoring Program

Inshore reefs (those that can be reached from shore by a small boat) are vulnerable to more threats than those further from shore. 32 inshore reefs are monitored under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Marine Monitoring Program.

Monitoring in Western Australia

AIMS has been monitoring fish and coral communities on Scott Reef on the North-West Shelf since 1994. The data help us to understand Scott Reef’s natural variability, and how its isolation from other reefs in the Indian Ocean, and consequent dependence upon self-recruitment, affects the dynamics of local populations and resilience of communities to disturbances like cyclones.

More information

  • For more information on the midshore and offshore reef monitoring program contact Dr Mike Emslie.
  • For more information on inshore reef monitoring contact Angus Thompson.
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