Fish communities in estuary and marine environments is an important data gap to fill in our Regional Report Card.

For many years citizen scientists have been diligently cataloguing fish species and recording vital supporting information. Programs such as Reef Life Survey, the Reef Authority’s Eye of the Reef, and Reef Check Australia are among the largest contributors of coral reef fish data.

With all this information already collected, the five Regional Report Card Partnerships were eager to see whether the data could be integrated and developed into an indicator for coral reef fish in future Report Cards. Thanks to funding support from the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the Partnerships commissioned a study to explore the reef fish data that has been collected over many years by citizen scientists.

A school of fish swimming
Fish off the coast of the Whitsunday Islands. Photo: Marty Strecker

The study was completed by aquatic scientist, Dr Greg Vinall in 2023. He ultimately found that the data sets could not be combined to create an indicator for the Regional Report Cards due to the complexity of the coral reef fish communities and the diversity of the data collected. Although the existing research programs collected valuable data using similar protocols, each program was designed for a different end goal, so fitting them together was challenging.

The study has provided us with a much better understanding of how sampling protocols can be tweaked and modified for easier integration, and how future monitoring programs can be designed with greater confidence in the monitoring locations and frequency of data collection.

“We found that the communities of fish on our inshore reef systems were markedly different from those on the outer reefs. We expected that, but we were surprised at how quickly the fish communities also changed when we compared reefs from north to south, both inshore and offshore. It appears that each individual reef has its own unique fish community structure.

It was also clear that despite hundreds of fish surveys having been conducted over many years, each successive year produced species that hadn’t been recorded by these programs in the past.

Once again, testament to the amazing diversity of the reef.”


~ Dr Greg Vinall

Read more about the Reef Fish Citizen Science Data Assessment below

The Reef Fish Citizen Science Data Assessment was funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.