Lizard Island - Profile

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

Lizard Island Research Station

Lizard Island Research Station
Photographer: Charlie Shuetrim © Charlie Shuetrim

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.


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.


The Lizard Island 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.


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.

Parent institution

The Australian Museum is the oldest natural history museum in in Australia and is widely acknowledged as among the best in the world in terms of scientific research, exhibitions, and educational programs. It is a NSW government institution located in a heritage-listed building in central Sydney. The Lizard Island Research Station is the Museum's only field station.

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 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, fax and broadband internet access.


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. 

Future directions

Coral reefs are under threat worldwide: recent estimates are that 10% of reefs are already damaged beyond repair and another 70% are threatened. Australia is one of the few developed countries to have significant coral reef areas under its control, and the Great Barrier Reef is among the best managed in the world. Over the last three decades, Australia's capability has become pre-eminent in tropical marine science and coral reef management. This places Australia in a unique position to provide on-reef facilities for coral reef research and education to a world-wide customer base.

Lizard Island Research Station is already benefiting from this concentration of world-wide attention on Australian coral reefs: at least 30% of visiting researchers and 80% of visiting educational groups come from overseas. The Research Station will continue to build on this export market. We do this by continually improving facilities that are relevant to the needs of users and by emphasising customer service, ease of access to the coral reef environment within the limits of safety and legislative requirements, and maintenance of equipment. This is our critical advantage, resulting in many well-travelled coral reef researchers declaring Lizard Island Research Station to be the best such facility anywhere in the world.


Lizard Island Research Station staff

Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation


Dr Anne Hoggett , Director, Lizard Island Research Station
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