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 expedition dive boats to recreational 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 found within GBR Marine Park zoning maps.

mv argo sMV ARGO volunteer vessel in CairnsIn 2018, our group 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. Together with Biopixel we tested the SmartLog USB data logger, developed by TeamSurv in the UK, to collect the data which are stored directly to a USB flash drive.

data logger sSmartLog USB data loggerThe aim is to improve the accuracy of the 3D depth model of the GBR. Detailed knowledge of seafloor bathymetry data is 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, with its shallow and deeper reefs, pinnacles, holes and channels, influence the path of seawater carrying cooling waters, nutrients and sediment through the reef matrix.

But 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 3D depth data can be shared with the IHO Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry and the global Seabed 2030 Project.

We have been funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to establish a pool of SmartLog USB data loggers in Cairns. 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.

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

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