Crowdsourced bathymetry on the Great Barrier Reef

Crowdsourced bathymetry is the collection of depth measurements from vessels using standard navigation instruments. Many vessels on the Great Barrier Reef - from dive boats to fishing boats - use some type of echo sounder to measure the depth of water. Combined with GPS satellite navigation, these instruments are used for safe navigation and guiding the activities permitted in the zoning maps for the GBR Marine Park.

mv argo sMV ARGO volunteer vessel in CairnsWe started the ‘Crowdsourced bathymetry on the Great Barrier Reef’ project to collect bathymetry and navigation data from volunteer vessels using their own echo sounder and GPS sensors. We initially partnered with Biopixel using MV Argo, installing a SmartLog data logger developed by TeamSurv in the UK to store the data onto a USB flash drive. The success of this first vessel test then led to an expansion of the project across Queensland.

data logger sSmartLog USB data loggerWe were funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to establish a pool of SmartLog USB data loggers for volunteer vessels. This project is also an activity of the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, which gives people an increasing role in contributing valuable citizen science data to improve a fundamental dataset that helps the Reef.

Our aim is to improve the accuracy of the 3D depth models for the GBR. Detailed knowledge of seafloor depths are critical for understanding the distribution of seabed habitats, to provide data for coastal inundation forecasting, flood plume modelling and crown-of-thorns starfish control efforts.

Knowledge of the 3D shape of the underwater landscape influence the path of seawater carrying cooling waters and nutrients through the reef matrix, which can be predicted using 3D hydrodynamic computer models. So the more we improve the accuracy of these depth models, the more this helps improve the results of hydrodynamic modelling.

And with less than 40% of the GBR shelf mapped with in situ depth soundings, it is important to preserve and share the data already collected, and to work together to help fill bathymetry data gaps to support these important uses for the Reef. More broadly, the crowdsourced bathymetry data will be shared with the IHO Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry and the global Seabed 2030 Project.

We invite enquiries by potential volunteer vessels to collect crowdsourced bathymetry data across the Reef.


Volunteer vessel MV Argo sailing on the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Fitzpatrick, Biopixel


allvessel tracks3D view of northern GBR showing all vessel tracks as of December 2019

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