There are currently over 90 monitoring programs operating in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent catchment. These programs have been designed for a variety of purposes and operate at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.
The following suite of reports formed part of the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP) design. The reports synthesize known monitoring programs, data sources, and current condition and trend in 10 thematic areas: Human Dimensions, Megafauna, Fish and Fisheries, Seagrass, Indigenous Heritage, Physico-chemical, Islands, Catchment and Estuaries, Corals, and Microbes. The information in the reports was current at June 2018. The reports were published in 2020.
The Great Barrier Reef, like all coral reef ecosystems, is vulnerable to climate change and ocean acidification, and is under significant direct pressure from human activities. Monitoring and reporting coral reef condition and trends is essential to understand the extent and rate of any changes, especially those that might lead to a loss in resilience, and to inform management actions.
Seagrass meadows are a critical habitat where many vital processes and services occur that contribute towards the health of the Reef. Seagrasses modify their environments to improve environmental conditions on the Reef, and provide a variety of ecosystem services. Monitoring the health of seagrass meadows is critical to maintain the exceptional values of the Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef supports one of the world’s largest populations of the dugong (Dugong dugon). Dugongs are impacted by indirect pressures such as changes in the status of the seagrass communities on which they depend for food, affecting their growth, fecundity, movements, and mortality; and by direct pressures that cause mortality.
Two species of great whales are commonly encountered on a seasonal basis in the Great Barrier Reef: the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), and the dwarf minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata subsp). The RIMReP report focuses on these two species, acknowledging that many other large and migratory whales utilise the Reef.
Three species of coastal dolphins are commonly found throughout the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian snubfin dolphin (Orcaella heinsohni), the Australian humpback dolphin (Sousa sahulensis), and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus). This report focuses on these three species, acknowledging that many other cetacean species also inhabit the Reef.
The current seabird monitoring strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is the Coastal Bird Monitoring and Information Strategy - Seabirds 2015-2050 (CBMIS-2015). This strategy is built around monitoring breeding populations of indicator species that represent different feeding guilds at identified essential breeding sites.
Shorebirds, also known as waders, gather in intertidal areas or on the fringes of freshwater wetlands. There are two major components to current shorebird monitoring in the Great Barrier Reef, each are discussed in the RIMReP report.
Through analysis of existing frameworks and monitoring methods, the Indigenous Heritage Expert Group developed a unique framework, Strong peoples – Strong country, for Traditional Owners to monitor the Great Barrier Reef, and its catchments; and thereby track Traditional Owners’ perceptions of the status of Indigenous heritage, and progress on the Traditional Owner components of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.
Fish and fisheries
Fisheries on the Great Barrier Reef provide an important source of income, nutrition, recreation and cultural development for many communities in Queensland. However, fishing can impact the Reef and the communities it supports. Removal of key species, post-release effects on discarded species, fishing of spawning aggregations and illegal fishing have all been identified as risks to reef fish populations.
Effective management of the Great Barrier Reef’s extensive range and diversity of islands requires a sound understanding of past, current and emerging threats to island values. A key challenge to building this understanding is the logistical, and resource challenges and constraints that relate to gathering meaningful information across the vast geographic spread (348,000 square kilometres) of the approximately 1050 islands.
The physical and chemical environment of the Great Barrier Reef underpins all ecological and human-cultural processes. Reef water quality is also a pressure on many ecological, cultural, social and economic values through a range of physical and chemical processes. As such, understanding the physico-chemical environment is fundamental to many of the information needs and reporting requirements for management of the Reef.
Catchment and estuaries
Estuarine systems are unique, placed as they are in the boundary between marine and terrestrial systems. They provide a buffering role between the ebb and flow of fresh water and marine water. They are also important for recreational and commercial activities and help protect human infrastructure from the vagaries of weather and the coast from damaging erosion forces.
In this report, the concept of human dimensions refers to how humans interact with and impact the Great Barrier Reef. The National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) Project 3.2.2 and funds provided through RIMReP have provided a methodology for assessing and monitoring the Reef’s human dimensions as a key mechanism to support governance and management of the World Heritage Area.
Microorganisms play a fundamental role in the functioning and stability of coral reef ecosystems. However, environmental disturbance can trigger alterations to the composition and function of coral reef microbes, with detrimental consequences. This report outlines the functional roles microorganisms play on coral reefs, and discusses the potential of microbes as early warning indicators for environmental stress and coral reef health.