In September 2016, 17 community volunteers joined in workshops and field activities to increase current knowledge about reef habitats across the Great Sandy Strait.
Extensive habitat maps have been developed for the Great Sandy/Wide Bay Burnett state waters through the draft Queensland Intertidal and Subtidal Benthic Classification scheme. The first habitat map for the intertidal and marine habitats uses 29 benthic habitat types, based on 80 existing datasets from a range of research and management projects across the region.
However, the combined datasets, high resolution satellite imagery and expert mapping advice identified a number of potential reefal areas that required ground truthing for validation. This project was designed to engage citizen scientists in ground-truthing activities along the length of the Great Sandy Strait to help refine data for available reef habitat maps. Volunteers contributed dataset 81, providing first hand field data on the habitat composition for these locations.
Two interactive workshops prepared participants with a crash course in reef ecology, benthic identification skills and data collection procedures. Many volunteers then joined us in the field to put their new skills into practice!
Dataset 81 Expedition
From Urangan to Tin Can Bay, volunteers visited areas key reefal areas to conduct hundreds of spot checks via a combination of drop cameras, viewing buckets and snorkel surveys. We were lucky enough to undertake this expedition onboard the Science Under Sail vessel, MV Velella, a 12m sailing catamaran with a small support vessel (a 3.6m RIB). The weather was on our side, for 5 days of Great Sandy Marine Park at its finest!
Our team explored a range of reef habitats, sometimes confirming areas of coral or sponge habitat, sometimes finding, well, lots of sand. Its all important and the crew enjoyed the process of discovery, knowing it was providing an important contribution to maps that can support best-practice science and management for this beautiful and unique part of the world.
In addition to data collection, participants also helped with data management onboard the boat and learned about the unique marine habitats of Great Sandy Marine Park. There was plenty of plotting too, with talk of more spot checks, plans by local Seagrass Watch volunteers to cross-reference their new reef knowledge and integration of mapping data collection into more detailed marine surveys of Norman Point and Seary's Ledge.
The spot check data will now be reviewed and assessed by UQ's Remote Sensing Research Centre, who will create a digital spatial data file outlining the extent of the reef inventory areas, which can be shared and discussed with project partners. We are also working on creating a matrix of category references to directly link RCA habitat mapping data with the Queensland Intertidal and Subtidal Benthic Classification scheme, directly integrating datasets and providing a framework for other projects to utilise.
This project is supported through the Burnett Mary Regional Group Keeping It Great grants with funding from the National Landcare Program. Thank you to project partners including The University of Queensland Remote Sensing Research Centre, Science Under Sail and Cooloola Coastcare. A special thank you to Maria Zann, Chris Roelfsema, James Udy and Maree Prior for their sage guidance and general awesomeness.