Technology breakthrough sheds new light on Great Barrier Reef

The Hon Sussan Ley MP, Minister for the Environment

The Hon Warren Entsch MP, Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef

Breakthrough mapping technology is providing new levels of understanding of the Great Barrier Reef and helping target Reef strategies with even greater accuracy.

Jointly developed through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the University of Queensland, the new technology combines satellite imagery and underwater mapping to create the most detailed biological terrain maps of the reef to date.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is already employing the data to prioritise crown-of-thorns starfish control, with future applications including improved understanding of the ways individual reefs connect, their exposure to major weather events and new baseline data on the reef’s diverse of range marine habitat. The data directly assist the Authority in planning permit assessments, and on water management.

“The Great Barrier Reef is the best managed reef system in the world and this breakthrough is a perfect example of science informing Reef management,” Minister Ley said.

“Thousands of individual satellite images are producing a high-resolution picture of the offshore Reef, making how we look at individual reefs easier, clearer, and more accurate.”

Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef Warren Entsch said that new mapping technology would be an important tool in targeting the extensive on water programs to protect the reef.

“This information enables us to better understand habitat types on some of these remote reefs and the ways cyclones and physical damage from predatory starfish, may impact resilience,” Mr Entsch said.

Lead scientist on the GBR habitat mapping project, Dr Chris Roelfsema, and his team from the University of Queensland developed the maps in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and EOMAP Ltd for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

“We are delighted to collaborate on this work with the Authority to bring together field knowledge, high quality satellite imagery and improved mapping and modelling methodologies,” Dr Roelfsema said.


The spatial data layers are available through the Reef Knowledge System, with two map interfaces:

Access is provided under Creative Commons and made available for non-commercial use by other management agencies, research institutions, and the community.

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The layers include bathymetry (satellite-derived water depth of ocean floor), geomorphological zones (reef slope, reef crest, reef flat, lagoon and island), benthic habitat type (sand, rubble, rock and coral/algae) and Sentinel 2 satellite data imagery, stitched, rectified and managed for reflectance.

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