Aussie citizen scientists unite to help the Great Barrier Reef

ABC projects, Media releases, National Science Week

Citizen scientists from around Australia are helping scientists and reef managers get a much better picture of the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

So far, they have looked at over 2.7 million points on more than 170,000 underwater images of the Reef and told us whether they can see coral, algae or sand.

They’re all taking part in Virtual Reef Diver—the ABC’s online citizen science project for National Science Week.

“The response we’ve had from citizen scientists has been amazing,” says spatial scientist and project leader Dr Erin Peterson from Queensland University of Technology. “We couldn’t collect this volume of data without their help.”

“We’re taking their classification data and feeding it into our scientific models of the Reef, to better understand issues like changes in coral cover across the Reef.

“Virtual Reef Diver is such an exciting and unique project, combining statistical monitoring and citizen science to tackle one of Australia’s—and the world’s—most urgent issues, the protection of the Great Barrier Reef,” says statistician Distinguished Professor Kerrie Mengersen from Queensland University of Technology.

And it’s not too late to help the Reef by diving through your computer, tablet or mobile screen from wherever you are around Australia.

Virtual Reef Diver ( will be running until at least the end of the year but if you take part during August you could win a GoPro camera. Every five images you classify during August give you an entry into the competition.

“I’ve seen the impact citizen science projects can have, through the many online projects the ABC has run for National Science Week,” says ABC Science’s Kylie Andrews.

“It’s great to see Australians from all over the country pitching in to work on one of Australia’s most iconic environments—the Great Barrier Reef.”

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.

Nine 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.

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

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.
  • Distinguished Professor Kerrie Mengersen, statistician, Queensland University of Technology
    Kerrie uses statistics to solve complex problems in the real world. She’s worked on the conservation of orangutans, cheetahs and jaguars in Peru, now she’s using statistical models to help reef managers better protect the Great Barrier Reef.
  • 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, Science Committee, 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.
  • Nick Kilvert, environment reporter, ABC Science
    Nick is ABC Science’s environment reporter and a trained ecologist. He’s a keen surfer, scuba diver and fisher, and spends as much of his spare time in the ocean as he can get away with.
  • 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.