Help protect the Great Barrier Reef without getting your feet wet

ABC projects, Media releases, National Science Week

The Great Barrier Reef is big, so big that scientists need your help to track its health.

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 from Queensland University of Technology.

“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.”

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.

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

“We’ll combine our 20 years of monitoring data with your classification data, to strengthen our predictive models of the Reef,” says coral ecologist Dr Manuel Gonzalez-Rivero of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

“This will help managers make critical decisions to protect the Reef for the future.”

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.

“Australians care about the Great Barrier Reef but not many of us have experienced it up close or had the opportunity to look after it. Virtual Reef Diver allows anyone in Australia to become a citizen scientist and do their bit to help the Reef,” says ABC Science’s Kylie Andrews.

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.

Seven scientists, divers and science communicators are available for interviews about Virtual Reef Diver, and how you can help better protect the Reef for the future.

Images are available here.

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

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, the QUT Institute for Future Environments, FrontierSI (formerly 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.

Talent available for interview

  • Dr Erin Peterson, spatial scientist, Queensland University of Technology
    Erin works at the intersection of ecology, geography and statistics. She is the Project Leader for Virtual Reef Diver and is passionate about engaging regular people to help better monitor and manage the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Dr Julie Vercelloni, marine scientist and statistician, University of Queensland
    Julie grew up in the south of France between the Mediterranean Sea and Provençal forests, but now calls Queensland home. She is primarily interested in how statistical models and new technologies can help us better protect coral reefs from global climate change.
  • Dr Manuel Gonzalez-Rivero, coral ecologist, Australian Institute of Marine Science
    Manuel’s research focuses on understanding what drives changes in coral reefs, and how we might use technology, such as automated image recognition and autonomous underwater vehicles, to better monitor coral reefs in the future.
  • Trevor Smith, experienced diver and instructor trainer, Dive2Go
    Trevor’s been diving in Australia and on the Great Barrier Reef for over 25 years. He works closely with other members of the diving industry and tourism operators, runs PADI professional instructor development and recreational diver programs, including teaching divers how to take good underwater images.
  • Jennifer Loder, Director of Programs & Partnerships, Reef Check Australia
    Jennifer is passionate about reefs and citizen science. She’s worked in environmental science, community engagement and science communication for more than a decade, helping to empower people to save our reefs and oceans through grassroots approaches to environmental challenges.
  • Kylie Andrews, producer, ABC Science
    Kylie is an award-winning producer, editor and journalist with ABC Science. She’s created and produced the ABC’s online citizen science projects for National Science Week since 2009, and is passionate about creating engaging citizen science projects that also hit scientific goals.
  • Ruben Meerman, The Surfing Scientist (limited availability)
    Ruben is a surfer with a physics degree and a passion for all things scientific. Growing up in Queensland after his family emigrated to Australia just before he turned nine, he fell in love with the Great Barrier Reef soon after he arrived.