Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Extra eyes to monitor the Great Barier Reef

Media release
17 June 2013

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke today launched a powerful Reef monitoring program – Eye on the Reef – that will engage an army of volunteers to help protect the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

Mr Burke said the integrated Eye on the Reef is a free mobile technology app that allows people to send in real-time sightings of marine animals while they’re still out on the Reef and contribute to its long-term protection.

“The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic Australian environmental asset and the Australian Government is absolutely committed to the protection of the Reef and our oceans,” Mr Burke said.

“This world-class program provides an avenue for people to use the app to report their Reef sightings and observations to the Australian Government so that we can build our body of knowledge on this vast and complex ecosystem.

“Eye on the Reef brings together five assessment and monitoring programs that collect valuable information about reef health, marine animals, and incidents.

“The information we receive will help us to manage the Great Barrier Reef at a time when it is under pressure from the effects of climate change and other threats.

“These photos, video recordings and observations feed straight back to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, providing up-to-date information on the distribution of marine animals. Users can also share their sightings with friends through their Facebook page.”

The app can be downloaded for free from the App stores (iphone version) and Google play (android compatible).

Eye on the Reef was developed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority as a partnership between government, scientists, the tourism industry, Marine Park rangers and other Reef users.

The expanded program brings together one new and four existing assessment and monitoring programs that collect valuable information about reef health, marine animals and incidents.

All of the reports made through these programs are combined in a single data management and reporting system, giving us up-to-date information on the health of the Reef and the distribution of protected and iconic species.

It provides snapshots of what’s happening on the Reef at a single point in time, comparative trend data over time, and early warnings of negative impacts such as crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.

Mr Burke said a key strength of the program was having a range of reporting tools to match people with different circumstances and reef reporting experience.

“This means there’s a reporting tool to suit everybody — from a first-time Reef visitor to an experienced researcher,” he said.

“Eye on the Reef not only enables people from all walks of life to engage in looking after the Great Barrier Reef, but it helps the Australian Government to protect the amazing biodiversity and unique heritage values of this much-loved international icon.”

Eye on the Reef is made up of five sub-programs

  • Tourism Weekly monitoring — reef tourism operators and crew carry out weekly observations of sites they visit regularly. This gives comparative data of those sites over time. It started in 1997 and was the original Eye on the Reef program. There are currently 43 tourism operators surveying 45 regularly visited reef sites between the Whitsundays and Port Douglas.
  • Reef Health and Impact Surveys — created mainly for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, champion tourism staff and researchers. It’s a quick and efficient way to provide a snapshot of reef health at any time on any reef. It’s often used to assess impacts of natural disasters on the Reef.
  • The Sightings Network — an avenue for any reef user to report the interesting, unusual, weird and wonderful things they see and experience in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The photos and observations they send in help us to build knowledge about species diversity, abundance, habitat and range. It used to be a paper-based reporting system, but all sightings are now made through the new app or online.
  • Eyes and Ears Incident Reporting — used by tourism operators and the general public to report things that aren’t allowed in the Marine Park, such as littering or fishing in a green zone. People can report incidents through the Sightings Network app.
  • Rapid Monitoring — a new program that enables tourists and regular reef users to get more engaged in reef reporting and protection. It enables people with relatively little experience to grab an underwater slate and make observations on core reef health indicators.