Reef Life Survey - linking volunteer divers, scientists and managers in marine research and conservation.
The marine environment is suffering from a variety of human impacts such as over-fishing, pollution, sedimentation, bleaching and introduced pests. The big problem faced by managers trying to deal with these impacts is that it is very difficult to know where conservation intervention is most useful because little reliable information exists on the nature and true scale of these problems.
Reef Life Survey (RLS) aims to improve biodiversity conservation and the sustainable management of marine resources through the collection of high-quality biodiversity information at spatial and temporal scales beyond those possible by scientific dive teams (which have to work with increasingly limited resources). RLS consists of a network of trained, committed recreational SCUBA divers, and an Advisory Committee made up of managers and scientists with direct needs for the data collected, and recreational diver representatives (RLS Advisory Committee).
The RLS diver network undertakes scientific assessment of reef habitats using visual census methods, through a combination of targeted survey expeditions organised at priority locations under the direction of the Advisory Committee, and through the regular survey diving activity of trained divers in their local waters. Building the network of divers with a very high skill level is an ongoing process, and training opportunities exist when a combination of funding and interest and enthusiasm from divers with appropriate experience allow (more information for interested divers can be found on the Documents page). Scientific rigor of data collected by RLS divers is achieved and maintained through limiting participation to only those with long-term commitment to the program, intensive training and ongoing assistance by scientists, and through the use of a level system that requires divers to maintain skills (More information can be found at the Documents page).
RLS was initiated by researchers at the University of Tasmania with seed funding provided by the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF) Program, an Australian Government initiative supporting world class, public good research. The program now forms the core activity of the Reef Life Survey Foundation Incorporated – a not for profit Australian organisation, but still with support from the University of Tasmania, which houses and manages the RLS database. The data are freely available to the public for non-profit purposes, so not only managers, but also groups such as local dive clubs or schools may use these data to look at changes over time in their own local reefs. By making data freely available and through public outputs, including this website, RLS aims to raise broader community awareness of the status of Australia’s marine biodiversity and associated conservation issues.
Despite the Australian focus, data collected elsewhere across the globe by RLS trained divers are also utilised in applied scientific outputs – and through the long term, RLS is expected to play a key role in the management and conservation of the world’s marine biodiversity and resources.