Australian based Coral Expeditions has taken the lead on a special voyage in partnership with the Australian Geographic and GBR Legacy which brought together expert scientific specialists and conservation-minded guests.
Over 10 special nights, the inaugural Citizens Science of the Great Barrier Reef was led by some of the world’s leading reef and species scientists. And the mission – to conduct a behavioural study of the rare dwarf minke whale and survey and sample collections of coral species to add to the Living Coral Biobank, the groundbreaking project both helps preserve and protect coral diversity and allows guests to experience real science at first hand.
Coral Expeditions and guests onboard contributed $30,000 in funding from the expedition to go towards the GBR Legacy Living Biobank Project, which has developed plans to conduct Citizen Science voyages annually in different regions of the Great Barrier Reef and further afield around Australia.
These include natural events such as the 2022 Coral Spawning on the Great Barrier Reef, a 2023 hybrid Solar Eclipse Voyage in Australia’s North West and a turtle Conservation expedition along the length of the GBR in 2024.
Coral Expeditions Product Manager Tamara Sweeting said: “We are proud of the vision and the outcome of our first fully-focused Citizen Science expedition. The deeply meaningful science projects were blended seamlessly with the renowned adventure holiday experience our guests are accustomed to. We immersed ourselves in the ecosystem of remote outer reefs and islands of the Great Barrier Reef and then relaxed in good company with sunset drinks on secluded sand cays at days end. That is the essence of our expedition experience.”
Dr Dean Miller, Managing Director of GBR Legacy, introduced guests onboard to the ‘how and why’ of collecting and preserving coral samples and to the vision of the Living Coral Biobank. “On this expedition, we were thrilled to add an additional 50 species of coral to the collection we currently have, making a total of 85 species in the Biobank”, said Dr Miller.
“With every coral bleaching event, we are at risk of losing the most vulnerable corals.”
The work during the voyage was essential in helping us secure around 22% of the diversity of hard corals on the Great Barrier Reef and involved a scientifically significant event when Dr Charlie Veron identified an new species on the first day of the expedition.
The waters of the northern Great Barrier Reef host the only known predictable aggregation of dwarf minke whales during the few short winter months, and Minke Whale expert Dr Alistair Birtles was onboard to share his knowledge on their behaviour. Guests were able to enter the water in small numbers and with tightly managed protocols to share eye to eye encounters with these unique and curious creatures.
On day five, the GBR Legacy team assisted Dr Birtles and the Minke Whale Project and experienced a 4-hour encounter with some great passes from a mother and calf, the longest known engagement of a cow and calf with a vessel. This allowed the team to get up close and high-resolution photos and videos to identify the animals as well as collect valuable skin samples for genetic analysis.
Every passenger was on deck helping with the data collection over more than 1000 data points, and simply enjoying this spectacle as mum and calf interacted with the vessel and research team.