Help protect the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet

You can help scientists help the Great Barrier Reef from the comfort of your home or office.

We’re inviting every Australian to dive through their computer screens into the Reef by taking part in Virtual Reef Diver—the ABC’s online citizen science project for National Science Week and the International Year of the Reef.

“We need the community to pitch in to help us classify thousands of underwater images of the Reef,” says spatial scientist and project leader Dr Erin Peterson, an Associate Investigator with ACEMS at QUT.

“Tell us whether you can see coral, algae or sand, and we’ll be able to get an estimate of the coral cover in that image.”

Coral cover describes the percentage of the sea floor that is covered in hard coral. It’s important because a huge variety of species live on the reef, and hard corals provide habitat for many of those species.

At 2,300 kilometres long and covering 350,000 square kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is bigger than Victoria and Tasmania combined, too big for scientists alone to cover.

“If we have these photos then we can actually get a lot of information about the amount of coral in different areas, whether it’s increasing or decreasing due to things like coral bleaching, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, or even cyclones,” says QUT Distinguished Professor and ACEMS Deputy Director Kerrie Mengersen.

“This way people sitting at home can contribute to managing the Reef,” says Erin.


Watch a video about the project

But even with all the monitoring and citizen science, there are still areas of the reef where we don’t have any data. Our statistical models help fill in the gaps by predicting what’s happening in those areas.

“By bringing together the citizen-contributed data with the professional data, and fitting those statistical models, we’re using every bit of information possible to give managers that clearer picture to make decisions,” says Erin.

Virtual Reef Diver is running for the whole of August and beyond, and anyone with a web-connected computer, tablet or mobile device can join in by going to

Every five images you classify during August will also give you an entry in a competition to win a GoPro camera.

Virtual Reef Diver is the online citizen science project for National Science Week 2018, undertaken by ABC Science with funding through the Australian Government’s Inspiring Australia strategy.

The project was developed by Queensland University of Technology, in conjunction with a number of scientific and community organisations, including ACEMS.

“It’s a really good opportunity for people to become involved in the science, and in that way become involved in helping to manage the reef themselves,” says Kerrie.

More about the project

You can participate in Virtual Reef Diver if you have regular vision and a computer, tablet or mobile with access to the internet.

Each image will have 15 small circles on it, identifying areas to classify, and should take you about one to three minutes to complete.

The first phase of this project is running throughout August. A second phase of the project will commence later this year, and will give citizen scientists the opportunity to upload their own underwater photos of the Reef to be classified.

Virtual Reef Diver aims to encourage regular people to contribute to monitoring and managing the Great Barrier Reef. The data they provide will be fed into predictive models used to gain a better understanding of the ecosystem, inform management decisions, and guide future data collection.

Virtual Reef Diver was developed by Queensland University of Technology in collaboration with the ARC Centre for Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS), the QUT Institute for Future Environments, the CRC for Spatial Information and the Queensland Government’s Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.

Images and other support for the project were provided by Reef Check Australia, the XL Catlin Global Reef Record, the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute and Remote Sensing Research Centre and the Australia Institute of Marine Science.

Media Information

Media kit, images, and other resources are available at

To organise interviews, contact Suzannah Lyons on or 0409 689 543, or Tanya Ha on or 0404 083 863

ACEMS media contact: Tim Macuga, 07 3138 6741 or 0478571226,