Extending capacity to monitor marine biodiversity without sacrificing detail: targeted participation citizen science

Dr Rick Stuart-smith1,2, Professor Graham Edgar1,2

1Reef Life Survey, Hobart, Australia, 2IMAS, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia


The traditional spectrum for monitoring of biodiversity has ranged from professional scientific teams, collecting detailed data at relatively small spatial and temporal scales, to high participation citizen science, collecting data over large scales but with lower levels of detail. The Reef Life Survey (RLS) program provides an important example of how targeted participation citizen science and high levels of training can fill the critical gap in our ability to sustain biodiversity monitoring in the world’s shallow seas. RLS allows greatly extended coverage of monitoring with increased cost-effectiveness, and without sacrificing the level of detail in the data collected. RLS data have in turn supported the science needed to develop and test key biodiversity indicators relating to pressures such as fisheries exploitation, climate change and pollution, relevant to Australia’s shallow marine environment. This presentation will show how local partnerships and monitoring efforts, that engage and train local community members, have been scaled up to allow tracking of these standardised biodiversity indicators around the continent. It will provide details of how scientific, public knowledge and biodiversity management have been improved through the voluntary work of community SCUBA divers, and what opportunities exist in the ongoing development of RLS.


Rick is a marine biologist and a co-founder of the Reef Life Survey program (RLS). Through his work as a research fellow at the University of Tasmania and RLS, Rick has dived and undertaken biodiversity surveys of reefs all around the world and has trained over 200 divers to undertake RLS surveys.

he has written a field guide on tropical fishes and created the Reef Species of the world online database, which provides a mechanism for the public to engage with the data and images  from the RLS program. His research is aimed at improving management of marine biodiversity.