‘Human sensors’ for monitoring Great Barrier Reef environmental changes and quality of marine waters through harnessing Big Data analysis

Susanne Becken
Led by: Prof Susanne Becken, GU


Project Summary

This project will take a novel approach to improving monitoring of environmental and aesthetic conditions in real time by capitalising on information provided through micro-blogs from visitors to the Great Barrier Reef. The data mining will integrate human sensing data (e.g. twitter) with existing monitoring data (including the ‘eye on the reef’), meteorological data, tourism statistics, and others dispersed data sources and a cost-effective monitoring tool will be made available to stakeholders. All Great Barrier Reef stakeholders will benefit greatly from this innovative monitoring system.


Project Publications
Final Report
Journal Article
Conference Presentation
Conference Paper
Magazine article


Science Day, 20th November, Townsville


Problem Statements


The need for this project became apparent at meetings of the Ministerial Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce, which Prof Becken is contributing to.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is at risk and environmental monitoring of water quality and other environmental conditions is critical. Traditional monitoring, however, is costly and faces enormous logistical challenges. In response, the GBRMPA has developed the beginnings of citizen science through its ‘Eye on the Reef’ program. The Eye on the Reef is highly successful but can be further enhanced and complemented by tapping into information provided through micro-blogs (e.g. Twitter and other social media) and integrating citizen supplied data with other monitoring data.

How Research Addresses Problem

Every year, a minimum of 2 million people visit the GBR on commercial tours (GBRPMA, 2014). The phenomenon of sharing tourist experiences via social media is well researched, and it is likely that visitors to the Reef describe their experiences (good and bad) through their subscribed channels. The number of micro-blog users is considerable. It is estimated that about 2.8 million or 12% of Australians use Twitter (see www.socialmedianews.com.au). In addition, about 85,000 international visitors reportedly used Twitter before or during their visit to Australia (TRA – International Visitor Survey). Visitors also use a wide range of other social media, as do reef tourism operators (e.g. commercial facebook sites). In addition, this research will explore how Indigenous residents in the GBR region can contribute information via their mobile devices, for example by feeding targeted tweets (recognizable through agreed
hashtags) into the monitoring system.

To use ‘human sensors’ of environmental conditions is the next logical step in environmental monitoring of the GBR. As part of an integrated ‘Big Data’ approach, these new data can be integrated with existing data (e.g. Marine Water Quality Dashboard, AIMS long-term monitoring) to provide a cost-effective tool that records change in real-time. This project offers a unique opportunity to greatly enhance the existing system and also offer a much needed demonstration project for developing analytical procedures for mining and integrating dispersed data sources into user-friendly monitoring tools.

In summary, this project will demonstrate how citizen/visitor data can be integrated and calibrated with other relevant data to explore new ways of monitoring environmental change.

Alignment with NESP Research Priorities

Theme 3: Natural resource management improvements based on sound understanding of the status and long term trends of priority species and systems.

– 3.3. Combine existing indicators and monitoring programmes to develop a costeffective integrated monitoring programme to support natural resource management, evaluate results and communicate trends.

3.6 Explore the opportunities for citizen science and Indigenous participation to improve tropical water quality awareness and outcomes.


Project Keywords

Big data; Great Barrier Reef; Monitoring; Visitors; Twitter.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through GU and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.


Project Map

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