Aesthetic beauty is a major driver of recreation and tourism to the Great Barrier Reef, and it forms an important part of the Reef’s World Heritage listing criteria. However, being able to assess the condition and trend of aesthetic heritage values for the Reef is a significant challenge, and to date there has been no systematic monitoring of the Reef’s aesthetic values. Two complementary NESP TWQ Hub research projects are addressing that challenge (Projects 5.5 and 5.6), and just recently the final report for Project 5.6 was released, on ‘Designing an Aesthetics Long-Term Monitoring Program for the Great Barrier Reef’.

Aesthetic value is derived from people’s responses to a natural setting and is influenced by both environmental and human experience characteristics. While the environmental characteristics for a location can be easily quantified (e.g. habitat type and health, the types of fauna present, water clarity), the experiential characteristics are subjective and individually variable. However, by collecting responses from multiple observers, these factors can be ‘averaged out’, and a reliable measure can be obtained to assess the relative aesthetic value of places, and monitor change in aesthetic value over time.

The project report identifies the objectives, operational requirements, monitoring metrics and a range of field protocols for different users, to enable the establishment of an Aesthetics Long Term Monitoring Program (ALTMP) on the Great Barrier Reef. Instead of creating a whole new program, the report recommends that cost-effective monitoring with broad spatial coverage can be achieved through the adoption of minor add-ons to existing scientific and citizen science monitoring programs.

Project leader, Dr Matt Curnock from CSIRO is hopeful that the proposed new metrics and methods will appeal to a range of existing Reef monitoring programs. “Aesthetic beauty is one of the main reasons so many people want to visit the Reef, and anyone who visits is capable of contributing to this monitoring. It’s really easy to do; it’s low-hanging fruit for existing programs, and it represents a great public engagement opportunity with important World Heritage reporting outcomes.”

More information on the Program design can be found on the Hub website.


Photo: Matt Curnock (James Cook University)


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