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The Lizard Island Research Station is a coral reef research facility that is owned and operated by the Australian Museum.

It enables cost-effective research and education about coral reefs by providing accommodation, boats, diving gear, laboratories and a seawater aquarium system to researchers and student groups.

The Research Station is situated at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, 270 km north of Cairns.

Researchers and student groups from any country are welcome to use its facilities to learn more about coral reefs. Fees are charged to cover operating costs.

From research conducted at Lizard Island, about 100 scientific publications are produced each year. The information is used by reef managers to conserve coral reefs, which are proving to be an increasingly vulnerable resource.

Overview of facilities

Lizard Island Research Station is the Australian Museum’s only field station. The following facilities are provided at the Research Station:

  • Shared accommodation for up to 39 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.
  • State-of-the-art 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.
  • Phone and broadband internet access.


Lizard Island is situated in the northern portion of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, 270 km north of Cairns, Queensland (14°40'S 145°28'E).

It is a high granite island about 7 square kilometres in size.

There are three smaller islands nearby (Palfrey, South and Bird).Together these form the Lizard Island Group and their well-developed fringing reef encircles the 10 metre deep Blue Lagoon. The only settlements on the island are the Research Station, the Lizard Island Resort and a basic camping area operated by the Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service.

All islands in the Lizard Island Group are part of the Lizard Island National Park, administered by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Lizard Island is situated in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, administered jointly by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency. Permits are required for all research conducted in the Lizard Island Group and the waters surrounding it.

The Lizard Island Group is a mid-shelf reef, situated 30 kilometres from the Australian mainland and 19 kilometres from the outer barrier reefs that line the edge of the continental shelf. Most reef and island types characteristic of the Great Barrier Reef are accessible from the Research Station


The climate at Lizard Island is tropical, with a summer wet season and a winter dry season.

Southeast trade winds at 15 to 25 knots are a consistent feature from March to September. In the later months of the year, winds become lighter and more variable in direction. During summer, strong northwesterly winds are interspersed with relatively calm intervals, and cyclones may occur between November and April. Lizard Island is large enough to provide a relatively sheltered lee shore in all but the most extreme weather conditions.

The photos at right show the beach in front of the research station at high tide. The top photo shows normal southeasterly conditions. The bottom photo shows stormy conditions during northwesterly winds and the tide higher than usual due to low air pressure.

Environmental data from several locations at Lizard Island are available online through the Great Barrier Reef Ocean Observing System (GBROOS).


Environmental monitoring at Lizard Island

Environmental data from GBROOS


Lyle Vail MSc, PhD and Anne Hoggett BSc(Hons), PhD have been joint directors of the Research Station since August 1990. They are married to each other and each has a research background in the systematics and ecology of marine invertebrates. Their roles are now mainly in management.

Another couple maintains the station and provides visitor services. Those roles are currently filled by John Williamson and Marianne Dwyer.

About the Directors

Lyle Vail AM, MSc, PhD
Anne Hoggett AM, BSc(Hons), PhD

Lyle moved to Australia in 1975 from Minnesota USA. He completed an MSc on bryozoan ecology at the University of Sydney in 1978 then moved to the Australian Museum where he worked on echinoderms. Lyle conducted the field work for his PhD project on crinoid reproductive biology at Lizard Island in the early 1980s and the degree was awarded in 1989 by James Cook University. From 1985 to 1990, Lyle was curator of echinoderms and molluscs at the Northern Territory Museum in Darwin.

Anne is from Sydney, where she completed her BSc(Hons) in Zoology at the University of New South Wales in 1978. She found her niche as a taxonomist in the echinoderm department of the Australian Museum. Her first visit to Lizard Island was in 1982 to collect specimens for the Museum and to assist with Lyle Vail's PhD research project. Her own PhD on systematics of the brittlestar family Ophiotrichidae was awarded in 1991 by the University of Queensland through the University College of the Northern Territory.

Lyle and Anne became the Research Station's fourth set of directors in August 1990. They were honoured in 2014 by being made Members of the Order of Australia for their service to environmental research and conservation. They are married and have a son, Alex Vail, who was four when they moved to Lizard Island. Alex is doing a PhD in marine behavioural ecology at the University of Cambridge and his research, as well as family ties, brings him back to Lizard Island occasionally.

Maintenance staff

Marianne Dwyer - Accommodation and Transport Officer

John Williamson - Maintenance Officer

John and Marianne started at LIRS in March 2015.

User Groups

The Lizard Island Research Station's facilities are available to:

  • Coral reef researchers, including postgraduate students, from all over the world. About 100 different research projects are conducted each year, involving about 350 research personnel of which about 30% are from countries other than Australia
  • School and university student groups conducting educational field work, led by instructors provided by their own institutions. About 12 educational groups, each of about 20 people, visit each year. At least 80% of educational groups come from overseas.
  • Volunteers, commercial users and special interest groups can be accommodated when space permits.


The Research Station's operating expenses, including staff salaries, are largely covered by fees charged to visiting researchers and educational groups. The Australian Museum Trust also contributes.

Funding for all capital expenditure is raised externally. The Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation was established in 1978 for this purpose. The LIRRF provides funds to enable high quality research infrastructure at LIRS. The LIRRF is also committed to ensuring that LIRS facilities are maintained to a high standard and are upgraded incrementally to keep pace with changing research needs.

The LIRRF also provides funds for research through its Fellowships and Grants program, and for the communication of that research.


Volunteers can assist at the Lizard Island Research Station in one of two ways: as a Station Volunteer or as a Research Volunteer.

  1. You can join the Station Volunteer Program and assist with maintenance. This program is organised by the Research Station. The Station does not offer any research internships. More Info About the Station Volunteer Program
  2. Highly qualified divers (divemasters or instructors) can register as Research Volunteers at Lizard Island Research Station. The Research Station maintains the register but any arrangements are made directly between researchers and Research Volunteers. More Info About Becoming a Research Volunteer.

Researchers - see the list of current research volunteers who may be able to help you.


We aim to be a world-leading supplier of on-reef facilities for coral reef research and education. To achieve this, we:

  • Value our customers and their work, and rate service to them as the highest priority
  • Maintain the local ecosystem in excellent condition by careful management of the Station's marine and land-based activities, and by close liaison with reef management authorities
  • Continually improve and upgrade facilities.