This undated handout photo received on April 6, 2020 from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook…
FILE - This undated handout photo received April 6, 2020, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University shows coral bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALA - A flotilla of tourist boats, fishing vessels and yachts is conducting a pioneering survey of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Conservationists have recruited more than 30 boats to help examine up to 150 ecologically significant reefs over the next 10 weeks.

The Great Barrier Reef is so vast that as much as 40% of this underwater paradise has never been surveyed. A fleet of private boats has begun inspecting critical parts of Australia’s greatest natural treasure to help establish the impact of climate change, pollution and other threats.

The project, coordinated by Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, aims to "capture large-scale reconnaissance data."

“The Great Reef Census involves a whole load of organizations who work on the reef, from tourism operators to super-yacht owners, to research stations, universities,” said Andy Ridley, the organization’s chief executive. “There is [sic] four universities involved, including University of Queensland and James Cook University. We have had some amazing support from funders, such as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. But it is a really massive, collective community effort.”

Snorkelers and recreational divers will take photographs at specified sites on the reef every 10 meters. The images will be available online for analysis by so-called citizen scientists around the world.

Peter Mumby, a professor at the University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences, said the data will be invaluable.

“What we are hoping to achieve with the help of the public is to find those reefs that are most important at driving the recovery of the barrier reef to the series of bleaching events that it has experienced in recent years,” he said.

Large areas of the Great Barrier Reef have been degraded in recent years by severe bleaching — or loss of the algae that corals host — that give them their vibrant color and much of their energy. It is caused by warmer ocean temperatures and scientists say it is made worse by climate change.

The reef stretches for 2,300 kilometers off northeastern Australia. It is about the size of Japan and is the world’s largest coral system. The World Heritage-listed area is home to an array of marine creatures, including 600 types of coral and more than 100 species of jellyfish.