a coral reef with diver and measuring tape

Monitoring inshore reefs

Measuring changes on reefs close to the coast on the Great Barrier Reef

Reefs of the Great Barrier Reef which form within about 10km of the Queensland coastline are known as inshore reefs.

While they form a small part of the World Heritage Area, inshore reefs:

  • support unique biodiversity  
  • are fundamental to Traditional Owner cultural values
  • are valuable to Reef users such as tourism, recreational and commercial fishers
  • are easily accessed by Queensland’s coastal communities, providing board social and cultural value.


Their health has high significance, however their proximity to land exposes them to additional pressures. They are more exposed to river runoff and pollution from the adjacent catchment, coastal development and shipping.

Monitoring inshore reefs

AIMS has monitored 31 inshore reefs since 2005 as part of the collaborative Great Barrier Reef Marine Monitoring Program with Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Data from the inshore monitoring program is designed to detect changes in reef communities adjacent to Queensland’s Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Isaac and Fitzroy Natural Resource Management Regions.

An additional eight inshore reefs are surveyed by AIMS’ Long-Term Monitoring Program.

Both the Long-Term Monitoring Program and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Monitoring program contribute to the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program.

What we measure

The trained team of reef ecologists measure:

  • seafloor cover of corals, soft corals and macroalgae
  • abundance of juvenile corals
  • factors such as disease, that cause coral death.


Data on the changes in these plants and animal communities, along with information on water quality, allow us to better understand the dynamics and resilience of the reefs, and support coastal resource management decisions.

How we measure

Surveys are carried out by marine scientists on SCUBA at permanent sites using photos of the seafloor and direct counts of juvenile corals and causes of coral mortality. As inshore communities can also differ with depth, surveys are carried out at both 2m and 5m depths.

Monitoring of inshore reefs differs to reefs further from the coast. Their short distance from the coast and exposure to naturally high levels of sediment from rivers creates a different community of reef animals and plants.

Water clarity in these areas is often reduced, preventing surveys of the entire reef perimeter using manta tow, or the counting of reef fish.

Learn more about AIMS reef monitoring procedures