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The challenge

Understanding the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a national treasure that brings significant economic, cultural and social benefits to Australia. As well as being the jewel in the crown of Australia's UNESCO World-heritage listed sites, it brings in $5.7 billion annually and generates more than 64,000 full-time jobs.

However, its ongoing health is under threat from pressures including:

  • climate change
  • declining water quality from catchment run-off
  • habitat loss resulting from coastal development
  • shipping and fishing.

0:03 - (Hugh Yorkston) The Great Barrier Reef is a huge and complex place, it stretches along

0:07 - 2,300 kilometres of the Queensland coast and there's at least 35 major rivers that discharge

0:14 - water into the Great Barrier Reef. (John Bennett) The work that the reef scientists

0:18 - have done over the last decade has shown us that the sediments, nutrients and pesticides

0:23 - coming from grazing and cropping land is what's causing the major impact to the health of

0:27 - the reef. (Dr Richard Brinkman) eReefs is a project

0:29 - that attempts to combine a whole hierarchy of models to model the impacts of land run

0:34 - off through rivers, down through estuaries and out into the marine environment, to try

0:38 - to pick up changes in reef health associated with changes in land use practices.

0:42 - (Dr Paul Lawrence) Governments, regional bodies and industries are already working closely

0:46 - together, however through eReefs we are able to actually build a better platform for integrating

0:51 - those models so that we can understand from the terrestrial, from the catchment side through

0:55 - the estuaries and then out to the reef -- one integrated modelling tool.

0:59 - (Rob Cocco) One of the challenges with water quality is that it's quite hard as a land

1:04 - manager to know that the actions you do today actually have a benefit to reef health in

1:09 - twenty, twenty five, thirty years' time (Dr Richard Brinkman) When you're trying to

1:12 - understand where a particular farmer that farms in a catchment, where is his footprint

1:16 - on the Great Barrier Reef, we can use these models to understand which particular catchments

1:20 - are impacting which marine regions. (John Bennett) So we can then take that back

1:23 - and work with the farmers and show them why they've got to minimise the excess fertilisers

1:29 - and pesticides coming off cropping land, and the excess sediments coming off the grazing

1:33 - lands. (Rob Cocco) We see phase one of eReefs having

1:36 - been quite successful in starting the process, developing the building blocks.

1:40 - (Dr Richard Brinkman) But even in these first eighteen months, we've delivered hydrodynamic

1:44 - models that give a three dimensional description of river plumes and currents and temperature

1:49 - on the Great Barrier Reef. (Hugh Yorkston) The second phase of eReefs

1:52 - is going to be crucial to bring in those related issues on water quality, the transport of

1:58 - sediments and nutrients, because those are the areas where the impacts happen in the

2:03 - reef. (Dr Andy Steven) We need to move from traditional

2:05 - research products which have a fairly narrow application to a set of systems that provide

2:11 - operational information in near real time. (Peter Coburn) We're monitoring and operating

2:14 - these models to a very high level of performance and reliability. We run ocean models that

2:19 - map the currents and sea surface temperatures all around Australia and the hydrodynamic

2:25 - eReefs model is really a specialisation of that sort of service and will be in fact,

2:29 - what we call nested, within our current models. (Dr John Schubert) The ground-breaking work

2:32 - that's been done here will be able to be taken and utilised in various ways around the world.

2:39 - If we can achieve it for the Great Barrier Reef, that will be a huge success.

2:42 - (Dr Richard Brinkman) One of the greatest innovations of the eReefs project is the ambition

2:45 - to model the whole Great Barrier Reef, it's an immensely large and challenging region

2:51 - and it's never been modelled as one unit before. (Hugh Yorkston) There's significant investment

2:55 - into this project, but that's because there's significant value in the Great Barrier Reef.

3:00 - (Dr Paul Lawrence) So we need to do everything we possibly can to protect that reef and also

3:05 - to ensure that the catchments remain in good health.

Video by Bureau of Meteorology

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Our response

No barriers to great communication

We're helping to develop an integrated decision support and communication tool for managing the Great Barrier Reef.

The five-year eReefs project, which began in 2012, spans the entire Great Barrier Reef (GBR) area – from catchment to ocean. It covers:

  • data management
  • models
  • reporting
  • decision-support tools.

The eReefs research partners are: CSIRO, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Queensland Government.

Funding support is provided by: the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance, BHP Billiton, Australian Government Caring for our Country initiative, Queensland Government and the Science and Industry Endowment Fund.

The results

Better understanding of the reef

The project will yield a better understanding of the GBR, make information more accessible for government, industry and the community, and help to model and monitor factors such as land-use and the impacts of rainfall and flooding, cyclones and climate change.

This graphic shows the range of work undertaken in the eReefs program. Research includes land based monitoring, creation of regional 3D models, satellite sensing of ocean colour, streamflow forecasting and relocatable coastal models. The flow of information is from data products, to data services, through to management products such as reports and forecasting products.

The eReefs project seeks to create an integrated operational system of critical data sources, forecasting and hindcasting models and visulalistion and reporting tools which span the paddock-to-ocean scale. ©  Jonathan Hodge, CSIRO

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