SPECTACULAR: Coral reefs and the animals they support are becoming more scarce.
SPECTACULAR: Coral reefs and the animals they support are becoming more scarce. contributed

Ambassadors trained to spread the word on Great Barrier Reef

AWARD-WINNING zoologist Professor Justin Marshall has just returned from a Coral Watch expedition to Heron Island.

He's been to the island, by his reckoning, more than 50 times.

But this sort of trip he's only done twice. It was a training trip, to prepare people to become Coral Watch ambassadors.

Coral Watch was founded by Prof Marshall 16 years ago and has become a global phenomenon.


Professor Justin Marshall - founder of Coral Watch.
Professor Justin Marshall is passionate about protecting coral reefs and the organisms they support. The University of Queensland

It's a citizen science project, and the concept is simple but clever.

The colour of coral is a good indication of its health.

Citizen scientists are given a simple plastic colour card - a bit like the paint swatches you can get from Bunnings, Prof Marshall says.

They are asked to select which colour on the card most closely matches the coral.

The information is recorded and provided to scientists, enabling them to raise the alarm on emerging situations and monitor threats.

Those who train to become Coral Watch ambassadors will educate other people about the condition of coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef.


HOT SPOT: Heron Island was the centre-point for scientists studying aerosols. James Vodicka
Coral reefs like the one at Heron Island (pictured) are at risk from run-off but the biggest over-arching risk, Professor Marshall says, remains climate change. James Vodicka

Prof Marshall, whose parents were both marine biologists has spent his life on reef systems around the world.

Educating people about the severe damage climate change is doing and will continue to do to our reefs is his passion.

"It's really hard when people say its not happening," he said.

When you've been diving every day in dead animals and a minister comes on the TV and says 'oh the reef is fine' - they need to take a damn good look at themselves.

Prof Marshall said that while the northern Great Barrier Reef was in strife, so far the southern end is still "in great condition".

Want to find out more about Coral Watch? Go to coralwatch.org




"They need to take a damn good look at themselves."