LIZARD ISLAND RESEARCH STATION
Proudly supported by Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation
The Australian Museum owns and operates Lizard Island Research Station (LIRS) to facilitate coral reef research and education on the Great Barrier Reef.
LIRS was established in 1973 by Frank Talbot, then director of the Australian Museum, with seed funding provided by American philanthropists Henry and Jacqueline Loomis.
Explore Lizard Island Research Station and its work in this 3-minute video.
Lizard Island is in the remote northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, an hour’s flight (260 km) north of Cairns. It is midway between the mainland coast and the outer barrier reefs that line the edge of the continental shelf.
It is an excellent location for reef research because diverse reef types are easily accessible, around the island itself and across the width of the continental shelf. Apart from LIRS, the only human habitation on the island is the Lizard Island Resort, a small campground, and on visiting yachts at anchor.
Research is the focus of activities at LIRS. Projects are led by researchers at all academic levels, from postgraduate students to professors. Researchers make up about 70% of usage over the year.
Education is the next important component of LIRS usage. Schools and universities can organise educational trips to LIRS for their own students. A new LIRRF initiative is a funded educational trip for Year 11 Biology students and teachers. Student groups comprise about 20% of annual usage.
Other users of LIRS includes makers of natural history documentaries who broadcast the wonders of coral reefs to enormous audiences, special interest groups such as Australian Museum Members and citizen science teams, and wonderful volunteers who assist with maintenance at LIRS.
In normal times, international usage of LIRS is high with at least 30% of projects led by researchers at overseas institutions and many others led by overseas researchers who are based temporarily at Australian universities. COVID-19 has reduced usage of LIRS substantially due to the absence of overseas researchers.
Lizard Island Research Station aims to be a world-leading supplier of on-reef facilities for research and education. The Foundation helps to support and maintain all facilities, which include:
- Shared accommodation for up to 37 people in four simple, yet comfortable, self-contained houses in which visitors cook and clean up after themselves.
- A fleet of boats to enable access to the reefs of the Lizard Island Group and to more distant reefs, from the mainland coast to the outer barrier reefs.
- Diving equipment, including scuba tanks and air filling facilities.
- A flexible seawater aquarium system enabling controlled experiments with living reef organisms.
- Laboratories with basic equipment that enable research samples to be processed to a stage suitable for transporting them to mainland or overseas laboratories for further analysis.
LIRS has just four staff, all of whom live on the island full-time: two directors and two maintenance staff.
Dr Lyle Vail AM and Dr Anne Hoggett AM are the joint Directors. Since starting at LIRS in 1990, they have comprehensively redeveloped LIRS and markedly increased its scientific productivity. This has only been possible due to the backing of the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation.
Anne’s background is as a taxonomist specializing in echinoderms. With collaborators, she initiated Lizard Island Field Guide and continues to expand it. Lyle’s background is in the biology, ecology, and taxonomy of echinoderms. He has spent decades lobbying government agencies for safe but sensible diving and boating regulations for marine scientists.
For both, the many joys of running LIRS include living at the cutting edge of coral reef research, helping young scientists attain their goals in the field, and maintaining close contact with the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation.
The two maintenance positions are currently filled by Ruth Carr and Arthur Davie who started in January 2021. These are busy and demanding roles that are essential to keeping the station’s many facilities in good working order.
Lizard Island Field Guide
Lizard Island Field Guide (LIFG) is a richly illustrated online tool that helps researchers, students and visitors identify the bewildering array of living things in the area, in both marine and terrestrial habitats. It was developed by LIRS in association with Gaia Guide Association and with funding from our Foundation. It is updated and expanded continuously.
Click the icon to explore the website version. Free mobile applications for both major platforms are also available. The apps can be used offline which is important at Lizard Island where internet reception is very limited.
Lizard Island Research Station minimises its environmental impact and provides stewardship for its extraordinary natural environment.
- 95% of electricity is produced from solar energy.
- Buildings are designed for passive cooling.
- Air conditioned work areas use the best available technology.
- Waste is minimised and mostly recycled.
- Composting toilets use no water.
- Four-stroke outboard motors reduce emissions.
- Marine research activities are carefully managed in conjunction with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
- Weeds on land are controlled with dedication.
Coral reefs need our help
The Great Barrier Reef is a vital part of our ecosystem and a natural wonder beloved by Australians. It is a World Heritage Area that is at risk of being listed as 'in danger' in recognition of the many challenges it faces.
Science and the will for change are the only possible solutions. Our work is helping.