Long Term Monitoring of the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has great economic importance as well as immense aesthetic value, contributing an estimated $5.8 billion to the Australian economy, principally through tourism, and commercial and recreational fisheries. Inscription on the World Heritage List recognises the area's global significance and entails regular reporting on its status. Coral reefs are always changing through natural processes such as recruitment, growth, mortality and disturbance by storms. Information about natural variability of populations is essential for informed management.

Metatdata - Crown-of-thorns densities and coral cover in 2013. Click on the 4-arrow square to go to the map page.

The AIMS Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP), initiated in 1993, was designed to track changes in populations of key groups of organisms, particularly crown-of-thorns starfish, corals and reef fishes, on appropriate spatial scales over the length and breadth of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA). LTMP core reefs were surveyed annually until 2006, when the program was modified to incorporate surveys of a different set of reefs that were chosen to investigate the effects of the 2004 rezoning of the GBR Marine Park. LTMP core reefs (47 reefs) continue to be surveyed every other year (odd years) while Representative Areas Program (RAP) reefs (56 reefs) are surveyed in the alternate years (even years).

The specific objectives of the programs are:

  • To monitor the status and changes in distribution and abundance of reef biota on a large scale.
  • To provide environmental managers with a context for assessing impacts of human activities within the GBR Marine Park and with a basis for managing the GBR for ecologically sustainable use.
  • To examine the effects of rezoning the GBR Marine Park on biodiversity.

Where to find the results of the reef surveys:

Data summaries are published on the internet in a variety of formats. The most up to date summaries are the Survey Updates which are published shortly after each survey trip. They contain the estimates of coral cover from broadscale surveys (manta tow) at each reef as well as summaries of observations of Acanthaster planci (crown-of-thorns starfish). There is also a more detailed summary Reef Page for each reef which includes a description of the reef habitat and abundance data for coral and fishes for those reefs where detailed surveys have been completed.