Great Barrier Reef Aesthetics Indicator Study 2017 Ratings

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About this Collection

Great Barrier Reef Aesthetics Indicator Study 2017 Ratings

Online survey data from Australian residents, distributed nationally, in October 2017. Rating scores of aesthetic beauty are provided for 181 coral reef images that featured a set of specific attributes that were tested as correlates of aesthetic beauty ratings.

Conservation and Biodiversity Decision Making Environment Policy Environmental Monitoring Environmental Science and Management not elsewhere classified Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified Natural Resource Management Recreation, Leisure and Tourism Geography Research, Science and Technology Policy Social and Community Psychology Sociological Methodology and Research Methods Sociology and Social Studies of Science and Technology

15 Oct 2017

19 Oct 2017

Matt Curnock

aesthetic aesthetics Great Barrier Reef GBR outstanding values OUV reef community benefits sense of place culture recreation tourism


Identifying indicators of aesthethics in the Great Barrier Reef for the puposes of management


Final Report - Managing for aesthetic values in the Great Barrier Reef: Identifying indicators and linking reef aesthetics to reef health


Factsheet - Project 3.2.4 Defining, assessing and monitoring Great Barrier Reef aesthetics


Defining, assessing and monitoring Great Barrier Reef aesthetics


Our aim was to provide rigorous testing of potential indicators for use in GBR reporting, monitoring and management. We chose the five factors that were both prominent amongst responses and amenable to quantification as part of a monitoring program, and tested for their influence on aesthetic ratings through regression analysis. They included: (i) coral cover, (ii) coral pattern, (iii) coral topography, (iv) fish abundance, and (v) visibility. (Coral pattern is likened to ‘coherence’ within the field of landscape aesthetics where a harmonious arrangement within a landscape composition, such as unity in colour, shape, or texture exists; Stamps, 2004; Rosley, Rahman, and Lamit, 2014). We then identified 181 underwater coral reef photographs from those that were publically available ( or existed in the combined image libraries of the study authors. They represented typical underwater images from the GBR, with a common oblique perspective taken from approximately 5-10 m above a coral substrate. This perspective characterised the image that a person would see as soon as they placed their head beneath the water, and it was similar to the visual perspective used in monitoring surveys conducted by manta-towing at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. Some photos were duplicated and placed randomly, and some were modified using photo editing software to manipulate one feature independent of others, for the purposes of ‘checking’ the consistency and subtleties associated with making aesthetic judgements. Each photo was rated for each of the five factors (on a scale of low, medium, high) by members of the research team with experience in coral reefs. Given that there were insufficient photos representing abundant fish and poor visibility, a total of 20 photos were manipulated to enhance or de-emphasise certain factors. These photos ensured that we could attribute differences in aesthetic appeal of each photo to at least one of the five factors. The final set of photos represented realistic coral reef images across all five factors, with a greater representation of images containing moderately high coral cover to capture the nuances across the scale of potential ratings and also to aide engagement during online rating sessions. Once 181 photos were identified and rated for each of the five factors, they were delivered to an online service provider with the ability to reach a large number of random, representative Australians ( A survey was constructed to collect simple demographic information about each participant, the self-rated level of interest in coral reefs, and aesthetic ratings for each photo on a scale of 1-10 (where 1=extremely unattractive, and 10=extremely attractive). Once an individual agreed to partake in the survey, they were sent a survey with 50 photographs randomly chosen from the pool of 181 photographs. We were concerned that the quality of responses would be affected if more than 50 photos were viewed (where 50 photos represented a ten-minute survey). The style of the survey was not dissimilar from very popular online games in which individuals are asked to rank aesthetic preferences of fashion or interior design items. A total of 1,417 individuals participated in the study, where each photo was rated at least 380 times on the ten-point scale. Twenty-nine percent of the sample came from Queensland, and 71% were distributed across Australia. Some 62.3% of people came from Metropolitan Australia, whilst 37.7 came from rural/regional Australia. Some 51.4% were female. Participants represented a range of experiences with the Great Barrier Reef, where 7.2% had never visited, and 7.9% did not find coral reefs that interesting. Most participants (99.6%) were not part of a GBR based club or community groups, such as a spear-fishing club. The average age for the sample population was 46.96 (standard error=0.471), and ranged from 16 to 89.

This project is jointly funded through CSIRO, Reef Ecologic, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme (NESP).

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence

CSIRO (Australia), Reef Ecologic (Australia), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Australia)

Marshall, Nadine; Marshall, Paul; Smith, Adam; Visperas, Bernard; Pert, Petina; Curnock, Matt (2019): Great Barrier Reef Aesthetics Indicator Study 2017 Ratings. v1. CSIRO. Data Collection.

All Rights (including copyright) CSIRO 2019.

The metadata and files (if any) are available to the public.

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Location Details

10°28′5.466″ S

24°29′54.33″ S

154°0′3.6″ E

142°27′52.524″ E


About this Project

NESP TWQ - 5.6 - Design of an aesthetics long term monitoring program

Development of a method to be adopted by the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP) to monitor and assess aesthetics in the GBRWHA. Define/determine how these relate to the ecological health of the Great Barrier Reef environment.

Nadine Marshall

Nadine Marshall

Paul Marshall

Adam Smith

Bernard Visperas

Petina Pert

Matt Curnock

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