The Great Reef Census is a world-first citizen science effort to survey the Great Barrier Reef. Over 11 weeks in late 2020, a flotilla made up of dive boats, superyachts and fishing vessels were mobilised with a mission to capture thousands of survey images from across the Great Barrier Reef. We were thrilled to be a part of this and are very much looking forward to the second instalment of the Census later in the year.
The Aroona with her long-range liveaboard capabilities took her guests and crew in absolute comfort to the far reaches of the Northern Great Barrier Reef. Among our guests was filmmaker, Phil Warring. We recently caught up with Phil for a chat about his Great Reef Census experience and his time on Aroona.
When did you first start diving and where?
My first dive was on Milln Reef when I was 9 in 1990. My dad took me down on the Octopus. After teaching me all the main points about breathing, diving and the gear, dad would take me down on the Octopus for short periods at a time. I would hold and manage the gauges, nudging him every few minutes to show him I was keeping an eye on it. I loved it so much. One day, while we were out on a trip at the reef (I had just been for a snorkel) one of the instructors, popped to the surface and yelled ‘Tiger Shark under the boat’ and then dropped back down. My dad grabbed his dive gear and told me to grab my mask and fins, which were of course wrapped together and stored on the dive deck ready to go. We jumped in the water and descended under the boat and saw the tiger shark for about a minute or so and then it swam off. We had a short look around at the coral and then ascended to the surface. My mind was blown and I have been diving ever since.
I did my first solo dive with Pro Dive when I was 12 in 1994, as soon as I could get certified. That trip was all around Milln and Flynn reefs and I remembered thinking how mind blowing the colours were.
Where have you dived around the world?
All through the Caribbean, Thailand, Indonesia, West Papua/Spic Islands, New Zealand.
What was the Northern GBR like?
Stunning! The coral was in amazing condition in most cases and what was most interesting to me was seeing so many different underwater seascapes.
What were some of your favourite things you saw up there?
The variations in the coral gardens and how much coral cover there was. Also a great variety of sharks. It was nice to go to some unsurveyed and unnamed reefs.
Did you see much evidence of bleaching or storm damage?
A little bit but not too much.
Do you think the Census is a good way to get a good overview of the health of the reef?
Yes, if it continues for years to come. The success of it will really come down to how much data is captured year after year and how that data is compared and stored. Also, if it grows year on year and more people and boats get involved then there will be more data to compare and share.
Can you see citizen science programs like the GRC playing bigger a roll in the future of science?
Yes, as long as they all work together and share data. As long as all the reef monitoring programs and citizen science programs share data and where viable and reasonable, share resources and information it should work. A central database for all data from the most basic to the more detailed should be shared by all organisations and should be easily available to access. That way organisations can still work for funding individually, but the data collected ‘belongs’ to the Great Barrier Reef and is shared by everyone who wants to access it for the best outcomes for the reef. Where it will come undone is if too much politics gets involved and the battle for funding starts overlapping too much. The Great Barrier Reef doesn’t understand or have time for that. If we can keep the internal politics out of it between organisations and keep a strong, passionate, collaborative approach then it should work. I have heard stories through the grapevine already of different organisations being upset with each other and therefore having to take sides. The only side we all have to worry about is the Great Barrier Reef.
Is having the census as an additional part of your expedition, adding to your experience? Are you getting more out of your trip?
Definitely. It feels like giving back to that which supports us. In that, I mean lifestyle, health and financially. A lot of us work and rely on the reef so it is great to do something on a trip that gives back.
Do you think you and others will be more engaged with the environment because of the census?
Yes, I think so.
Do you think there are additional things that can be added to the census to improve the outcome or the passengers overall experience?
Our Dell remote website wasn’t working when we were out. It would be great to have that on board so we could upload as we went.
How was travelling on Aroona?
Aroona is very comfortable and the perfect size. The food was amazing and so were the staff. There was a lot of combined knowledge on the boat and that made for a very organised and interesting trip. The dive deck was always well managed and looked after. I’d love to get back out there again.
Learn more about Phil and his team here:
Get more information and availability for The 2021 Great Reef Census, here: