Coral Bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island
Coral Bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island

A diver’s grim discovery confirms a disasterous bleaching event

“JUST really sad”.

That is how Yeppoon waterman Jake Taylor described the carpet of white where a once-bright, colourful coral bed lay after a recent dive off Great Keppel Island.

Mr Taylor has dived and spearfished off Yeppoon since his early teens and said the recent bleaching event was the worst he had ever seen.

Yeppoon spearfisherman Jake Taylor
Yeppoon spearfisherman Jake Taylor

On Sunday, Mr Taylor and his friends went diving for the first time since early February before the water got too murky following the late summer rain.

“We could see the white coral from the surface – that’s pretty bad,” he said.

“There’s always been bits and pieces around the place, but I’ve never seen square metreage like this before.”

Coral bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island
Coral bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island

Mr Taylor, who frequents the places photographed, said the mass bleaching of that specific area had happened between his last dive in early February and his dive last Sunday.

New government findings released earlier this week confirmed the grim reality of a third mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef in five years.

Coral Bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island
Coral Bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said aerial surveys had uncovered further bleaching of the reef.

The aerial surveys, which covered 1036 reefs, focusing on shallow water corals, had found:

­• Widespread moderate to severe bleaching across much of the Reef

  • Severe bleaching was more widespread than in previous bleaching events
  • Areas, mostly well offshore, had no or low level bleaching
  • Some areas have reefs with a mix of negligible, moderate and severe bleaching (the southern offshore reefs of the Marine Park)
  • There are reefs that severely bleached for the first time in 2020 and other reefs that bleached severely in 2016, 2017 and 2020
  • Major tourism areas of the Reef mostly experienced no, negligible or moderate bleaching only - the exception is one area in the southern part of the Marine Park with severe bleaching.
Coral Bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island
Coral Bleaching on the reef off North Keppel Island

The latest mass bleaching event follows two others in 2016 and 2017.

Those events correlated with marine heatwaves where Great Barrier Reef sea surface temperatures for February, March and April 2016 were the hottest on record followed by warmer than the long-term average in January, February and March 2017 according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

“These anomalously warm conditions led to a second consecutive year of mass coral bleaching on the GBR,” BOM’s 2017 Marine Heatwave report read.

A BOM report about the 2016/17 heatwaves identified climate change, El Nino, and local weather patterns (cyclones and low cloudiness) as contributing factors.

However, the GBRMP said the most recognised tourism areas of the reef had “no, negligible or moderate bleaching” and as COVID-19 passes and borders reopened, tourists should return to the reef.

“When it is safe to do so, the Authority will encourage ­people from across Australia and around the world to see the Reef, love the Reef, and importantly protect the Reef,” GBRMP said.



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