Jessica Wynne Lockhart in Smithsonian:
In August, marine biologists Johnny Gaskell and Peter Mumby and a team of researchers boarded a boat headed into unknown waters off the coasts of Australia. For 14 long hours, they ploughed over 200 nautical miles, a Google Maps cache as their only guide. Just before dawn, they arrived at their destination of a previously uncharted blue hole—a cavernous opening descending through the seafloor. After the rough night, Mumby was rewarded with something he hadn’t seen in his 30-year career. The reef surrounding the blue hole had nearly 100 percent healthy coral cover. Such a find is rare in the Great Barrier Reef, where coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 led to headlines proclaiming the reef “dead.”
“It made me think, ‘this is the story that people need to hear,’” Mumby says.
The expedition from Daydream Island off the coast of Queensland was a pilot program to test the methodology for the Great Reef Census, a citizen science project headed by Andy Ridley, founder of the annual conservation event Earth Hour. His latest organization, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, has set the ambitious goal of surveying the entire 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2020. “We’re trying to gain a broader understanding on the status of the reef—what’s been damaged, where the high value corals are, what’s recovering and what’s not,” Ridley says. While considered one of the best managed reef systems in the world, much of the Great Barrier Reef remains un-surveyed, mainly owing to its sheer size. Currently, data (much of it outdated) only exists on about 1,000 of the Great Barrier’s estimated 3,000 individual reefs, while a mere 100 reefs are actively monitored.