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BCA News: Fall 2017

Surveying the Great Barrier Reef – 20 Years of Change

Lizard Island is one of the most northern islands in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Known for its historic significance, Captain Cook climbed its tallest peak to navigate through the treacherous coral reefs. Today it has a state-of-the-art marine/reef research facility and a 5-star resort. David Attenborough and the BBC have filmed a majority of the GBR footage at Lizard Island.

In 1997, RMIT University professors Brian Leonard and Gale Spring took students from undergraduate programs in Biology/Biotechnology and Scientific Photography and began the field study practicum to Lizard Island. The popular program still runs under Professor Jeff Shimeta.

It wasn’t envisioned at the time that student projects and photographic documentation would contribute to more than 20 years of observational research and would add to the understanding of the local reef health. It was also not envisioned that climate change and hurricanes would alter the reef and landscape of the island to varying degrees. Because of the yearly trips by staff and students, we have a good photographic record of these changes as well as data on marine health specifically around the marine park site of Clam Gardens.

Students have been undertaking a transect survey of Clam Gardens since we began in 1997. They identify the quantity, distribution and state of health of 10 specified animal and plant species that inhabit the area. What started as a student experience of collecting data in the field, has now accumulated enough data to provide scientific significance. Although Clam Gardens tends to remain healthy, it is obvious much of the Great Barrier Reef is suffering.

Further information is available at: Lizard Island: A Voyage of Discovery


A healthy specimen of octocoral.


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