Case Study 2 – Watching the Great Barrier Reef: trust in autonomous monitoring at scale

Lyndon Llewellyn1, Melanie Olsen1, Scott Bainbridge1, Hannah Feldman2, Elizabeth T. Williams2

1 Australian Institute of Marine Sciences

2 Australian National University

Background podcast: Episode 2: An ocean of data, with Lyndon Llewellyn from the Australian Institute of Marine Science

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) covers an area the size of Italy, is a major shipping route, and is an area of significant ecological, cultural, and economic importance. It is also a significant site for more than 70 Traditional Owner groups, who have been connected to the Reef environment for more than 60,000 years. [1]  

The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences was established in 1972 to research and monitor Australia’s marine ecosystem. One of their largest responsibilities is monitoring the Great Barrier Reef—a job with many parties of interest, ranging from individual tour operators and local farmers to local, national, and international political and environmental organisations. Their Long Term Monitoring Program has collected over 30 years of data, consisting of observations collected by trained divers exploring fixed transects and perimeters of the reefs within the GBR. In recent years, AIMS has begun piloting the use of autonomous underwater vehicles for reef monitoring, initially spurred on by the need to service commercial (mining) interests for remote monitoring of Western Australian reef areas. They are exploring rolling out a large-scale autonomous monitoring system for the Great Barrier Reef, to augment (and possibly replace) the diver-based work currently done by the Long Term Monitoring team.  

The case study has focused on the opportunities and challenges a transition from diver-based to autonomous monitoring will present, with a specific focus on trust. In particular, we would like the workshop to explore how trust in data collected and analysed autonomously impacts stakeholder acceptance and influences policy development. The connection to social responsibility will be made in the exploration of how one thinks about quality assurance and control in large-scale monitoring projects like this, particularly in light of the potential influence the monitoring system will have on economic, social, cultural, and environmental actors with interests in the Great Barrier Reef.