The Coral Sea Foundation is a not-for-profit marine conservation organisation based on Yunbenun, Magnetic Island in North Queensland, just offshore from Townsville. Our team has multi-decade marine science experience across the Indo-Pacific, and we currently have active operations underway on the Great Barrier Reef, and in the eastern Coral Triangle in the waters of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands through our partner organisation the Sea Women of Melanesia.
We have been receiving many inquiries from people that would like to volunteer to help us with the Foundation’s work, as well as requests from people looking to enhance their marine science and marine conservation knowledge through an internship type experience with us here on Magnetic Island. We have given some thought to the most practical way that we can engage more people in our organisation and our marine conservation activities, given our existing resources, personnel, and location, and what we came up with is the Magnetic Island Advanced Reef Survey Training (MARST) Residency idea. Let’s unpack it a bit more below!
We live and work here on Magnetic Island, and we love the place! One of the best things about the Island is that it is an ideal location for marine science training. It is quick and easy to reach Yunbenun with the Sealink Ferry from Townsville, and yet the island has diverse fringing reefs with incredible marine life very close to shore. There are dive shops for gear and tank fills, pubs and pharmacies and supermarkets and most suburban services, which makes it very easy to stay here. Best of all, 75% of the land is in the Magnetic Island National Park, replete with wildlife, stunning bushwalks and isolated beaches, forming the perfect environment for the study and immersion in our tropical reef and island ecosystems.
Key members of our team have been delivering marine science and marine ecotourism activities here for over 25 years, and we thought we should leverage that experience, mix it with some modern technology and great accommodation, and put together a package that would be exciting and educational for our supporters to participate in, as well as logistically feasible for our small team to deliver.
Reef Monitoring at Magnetic Island
The coral reefs of Magnetic Island are numerous and diverse, ranging from the turbid water assemblages on the western and northern side of the island, to the clear water reefs of the north-eastern beaches, and the coral communities growing directly on the rocky shores that line most of the island.
Surveys and reef monitoring activities have been undertaken here, off and on, for many decades, at least since the late 1980’s, and several of our senior marine science associates have been involved in that work.
However, given the size of the island and its 40km of coastline, only a small fraction of the marine environment has actually been surveyed, and an even smaller proportion has been actively monitored repeatedly through time. Furthermore, the survey techniques that have been used are the traditional “transect tape and slate” methods, which are not particularly accessible to citizen scientists.
Our team has a large archive of photo-monitoring imagery from most of the major bays, and we have wanted to extend and improve that dataset for quite some time. We have been incorporating geotagging digital camera technology into our Melanesian and Lizard Island operations for the last 2 years, and so we thought – let’s apply that to the Magnetic Island reefs right in our backyard!
Digital Camera Technology and Citizen Scientists
Waterproof digital cameras with built-in GPS capability have revolutionised reef monitoring in the last few years, because they have made it possible for lightly-trained people to collect really detailed and really accurate information about the status of the coral cover on a reef. This was never possible with the “old-school” tape and slate methods, because they required lots and lots of training before the person could perform the method accurately, and even then, there was a lot of “observer bias” in what eventually got written down on the slate.
Our Foundation has rapidly adopted and developed these new digital methods to support the work of our indigenous Sea Women of Melanesia teams in Papua New Guinea during the covid pandemic, and we have further refined the methodology during our Citizen Science Expeditions on the Great Barrier Reef.
With the support of OM Digital Solutions Australia, the Coral Sea Foundation has been able to roll out the latest Olympus TG6 cameras across our teams, and these units have delivering outstanding results. Now is the time to direct this monitoring methodology toward the Magnetic Island reefs in a more serious way, and this is where we would like to facilitate your participation!
A Natural Feature Monitoring Network
Public interest in the status of the Great Barrier Reef, and its recovery from recent bleaching impacts, has never been higher. Finding compelling and innovative ways to convey the changing condition of the Great Barrier Reef to the average person, especially through using digital technology and social media, is now super important. From our recent work at Lizard Island, we have found that time-series images of the same piece of reef are a very powerful tool to convey information about how the reef is changing. For example:
Importantly, the geotagging digital camera technology makes it very easy to relocate and re-photograph the same piece of reef, without the need to physically damage the reef by hammering in metal marker bars, which is still the method used in the old-school tape and slate survey technique. It is particularly easy to photograph the same site if a distinct natural marker feature such as a massive coral is included in the image:
So, the essence of our new project, which will be at the core of the MARST Residencies on Magnetic Island, is to locate and photo-map a suitable network of these natural feature site markers, right around the island, wherever reefs are growing. This non-invasive method will provide a valuable suite of reef condition information, as well as providing an ongoing framework for citizen scientists to participate directly in the collection of photo-monitoring data around Magnetic Island, one of the most accessible reefs on the GBR.
Our MARST Residents will be getting hands-on experience with our reef survey methodology and the geotagging TG6 cameras as they work with our marine biologists to create this new Natural Feature reef monitoring network. They will also develop their skills in:
We needed our MARST participants to have access to a reasonably priced, clean, modern private room with good amenities, within walking distance of our office, the beach, the shops and the ferry terminal. We found exactly that at the Jungle Club, the Island’s newest and coolest co-working space and creative residency, founded by graphic design whiz Frankie Ratford. The Coral Sea Foundation has booked the Jungle Club’s Green Room for 16 weeks starting January 22nd 2022 for our MARST Residencies.
We will have one person, or a couple, working with us at a time. At the Jungle Club there are three private rooms for residents, two shared bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen area, a co-working and workshop space, and an art gallery. The Green Room is air-conditioned with a Queen bed and hanging space for clothes. Bed linen and a towel are supplied.
The minimum stay at Jungle club is one week, however we suggest at least a two-week stay to get the most experience and education out of the MARST Residency and your own exploration of Magnetic Island. There is no maximum limit to how long you can stay with us, and weeks roll over each Saturday.
Costs and Options
Qualifications and Prerequisites
Desirable but not Essential
Bookings and More Info
Bookings are now open, starting Saturday February 12th 2022.
Please email the Coral Sea Foundation team directly for more information and reservation inquiries. We would love to discuss your interests and areas of expertise beforehand, so we can give you the best experience working with us!