An image from the new Reef Atlas.

Effective management and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area requires detailed knowledge of its biodiversity, environmental conditions, principal stressors and factors that are important for recovery after disturbance. Decades of research on the GBR have generated a huge amount of descriptive data about spatial patterns in biodiversity and the environment. Long-term monitoring has shown how the Reef changes over time through natural variability, how quickly reefs recover from disturbances such as cyclones and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and what factors determine recovery rates. To date, most of this information has been under-used in informing natural resource managers and influencing policy decisions.

The Reef Atlas is a new collaborative initiative, jointly funded by AIMS, the Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility, the GBR Foundation, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and EDS (Electronic Data Systems). The vision for the Atlas is that it will be a knowledge repository containing data, maps and information on topics relevant to the GBR and its catchments. It will include statistical models to interpret data, produce new syntheses and explore alternative management scenarios. It will evolve as new information and more powerful analytical tools become available.

In 2007/08, a small team led by Drs Katharina Fabricius and Glenn De'ath produced a prototype Atlas that contained:

  • a searchable repository for data and meta-data;
  • a geographic information system to find, explore and map spatial and temporal data;
  • a library of publications and unpublished technical reports; and
  • a website linking the data repository, mapping tools and publications.

The prototype was shown to a well-attended workshop of potential Atlas clients in conjunction with the 2008 MTSRF Annual Conference and received strong endorsement. As a result, the Atlas will receive further investment from AIMS and external sources to move it towards public release.