On this page...

Explore Lizard Island Research Station and its work in this 3-minute video

The Australian Museum owns and operates Lizard Island Research Station to facilitate coral reef research and education on the Great Barrier Reef.

LIRS was established in 1973. It currently hosts about 100 research projects each year conducted by more than 300 people. More than 100 scientific publications are produced each year from research at LIRS.

We aim to be a world-leading supplier of on-reef facilities for research an 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.

Lizard Island Research Station provides:

  • 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.

Lizard Island is serviced by:

  • Two light aircraft flights per day to/from Cairns
  • Fortnightly barge from Cairns for food and equipment freight
  • Internet and mobile phone access in limited areas through the Telstra network only

Student group trip to Lizard Island

Emmanuel Anglican College students and teachers made an educational trip to LIRS in May 2021. Get a feel for the excitement of their visit from this video produced by Tom Papworth.

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

Great Barrier Reef map

Great Barrier Reef map courtesy of the Spatial Data Centre, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

© Commonwealth of Australia (GBRMPA) 2019

Lizard Island satellite photo
Lizard Island, 24 September 2005 Image: Geoeye
Photo provided under licence from Geoeye, not for commercial use.

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.

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

Lizard Island Research Station has just four staff, all of whom live on the island full-time: two directors and two maintenance staff.

Lyle Vail AM MSc PhD and Anne Hoggett AM 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. The roles have been filled by Arthur Davie and Ruth Carr since January 2021.

There are two ways to volunteer at the Lizard Island Research Station.

  1. You can become a Station Volunteer and assist with maintenance. Such volunteers are highly valued at LIRS! This program is run directly by LIRS and we can provide a definite yes or no to your enquiry. Please note that this program is limited to visits of two weeks only and is not suitable for students looking for work experience placements.
  2. Highly qualified divers (divemasters or instructors) can register as Research Volunteers. In this program, LIRS acts as an intermediary between researchers and prospective volunteers. We maintain a register of prospective research volunteers that researchers can access. Any arrangements are made directly between researchers and volunteers and LIRS has no control over that process.

We manage Lizard Island Research Station to minimise its environmental impact and to provide stewardship for its extraordinary natural environment. As new systems and services become available, the ways in which we do that change and improve.

Long-standing practices at LIRS include responsible handling of waste, minimising impacts on the groundwater supply and being as energy-efficient as possible. In particular, LIRS has operated with the following initiatives for many years:

  • hot water is provided by solar hot water systems
  • dry composting toilets are used throughout the Station
  • houses are well ventilated and have wide eaves and verandahs so there is no need for air conditioning
  • fruit and vegetable waste is composted on site
  • materials are re-used wherever possible
  • office paper, glass, aluminium, and most plastics are sent to the mainland for recycling
  • non-recyclable waste is sent to the mainland for landfill
  • waste laboratory chemicals are disposed of appropriately
  • marine research activities are carefully managed
  • weeds on land are managed with dedication

The 30th Anniversary Development provided an opportunity to reduce the station's environmental footprint even further.

  • Careful design of the Ian Potter Centre for Tropical Marine Research provides for passive cooling of the central research area: its roof acts as a venturi to draw hot air from this large area so that air conditioners in the labs and offices do not have to work as hard.
  • Efficient inverter technology was chosen for the air conditioners that are still necessary in these work areas.
  • Energy efficient lighting and appliances were important specifications throughout the upgrade project.
  • Four-stroke outboard motors use less fuel and produce fewer emissions than the older two-stroke technology and they are now being used effectively on the Station’s larger boats. However, a trial on the dinghies showed that smaller four-stroke motors are not yet reliable enough for use in remote areas, so we have had to revert to two-strokes for these boats.
  • An air bank enables more efficient use of power for filling scuba tanks.
  • In 2011, one of the major components of the 30th Anniversary Development was commissioned: a 30 kW solar array that replaces about 65% of the diesel used for generating electricity.

The Sunny Portal site for Lizard Island provides near real-time production data from the solar power system as well as photos showing its construction (this link will take you out of the Australian Museum web site).

Explore the history of the unique relationship between the Australian Museum and the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation that has resulted in the development of Lizard Island Research Station.

This richly-illustrated book was written by LIRRF trustee Charlie Shuetrim, originally published in 2009 and updated in 2013.

Download the pdf (17 MB)

Lizard Island Research - a Partnership

Lizard Island 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.

Lizard Island Research Station

PMB 37

Cairns Qld 4892


Office phone: +61 7 4060 3977

Email: lizard@austmus.gov.au