Life’s a bleach for The Great Barrier Reef

Emma Shepherd

If you’re considering taking a trip to somewhere hot (like, really hot) then look no further than your own backyard.

Most Australian’s jump at the chance for a cheap and cheerful sun-filled holiday, usually to Bali, Thailand or the Philippines.

Be team scuba diving at Nursery Bommie out on the Agincourt Reef in Port Douglas. Source: Tourism Queensland

However, people tend to forget there's something beautiful and tropical right at their doorstep. Only problem is, most people tend to think that the best part of The Reef has been destroyed by bleaching.

We're here to tell you that it's not dead.

Quicksilver tours taking Be out to the Agincourt Reefs in Port Douglas. Source: Tourism Queensland

Be spoke to reef expert and marine biologist Gareth Philips at theReef Teach centre* *in Cairns who told us the reef has experienced two recorded back-to-back bleaching events.

Apart of the Great 8 - The Clownfish. Source: Queensland Tourism

Gareth also revealed that bleaching isn’t actually as bad as people perceive it to be: “Bleaching is not the death sentence that everyone says it is, a lot of people ask me how I feel about coral bleaching and to be quite honest they are always surprised with my response, I’m happy to see bleaching,” he tells Be.

So what is bleaching?

Gareth explains: “Corals are actually small organisms, little jellyfish style animals that live with the relationship with the plant inside of it. That plant feeds to coral through photosynthesis and that’s what gives the coral its colour.

“Coral bleaching is when an environment gets stressful for the jellyfish animal and the plant, and the coral animal kicks out of the plant so it loses its entire colour," he said.

Some of the reef that has been bleached. Source: Supplied

He explained that just like when humans get the flu and develop symptoms such as a cough, fever and sweating, these are all healthy signs of your anti bodies working.

“This is exactly what coral bleaching is, the coral fighting back, and is a natural event that corals go through during seasons just like some years we have a bad flu outbreak,” he tells Be.

“The reef is not dead, only 10% of the reef has been wiped out due to coral bleaching, the reef is still diverse and still kicking,”

More beautiful coral that we saw on our trip. Source: Tourism Queensland

He continued: “Coral’s actually need to bleach to survive in these stress events, when the environment gets unfavourable for them, the plant which lives in the coral causes toxins which they have to get rid of or the coral will die.

“So if the coral doesn’t bleach it will actually die, but coral can survive for up to three months without that algae (plant).”

Surveys done by the Australian Institute Of Marine Science have also backed Gareth’s claims.

Snorkeling at the Agincourt Reef. Source: Tourism Queensland

Senior research scientist and leader of the AIMS Long-term monitoring program Dr High Sweatman agreed: “There is no doubt that the reef is not dead."

Dr Sweatman continued: "Really what is important for the state of the Reef and for recovery are the corals that survive rather than the proportion of corals that died (because the survivors are the breeding corals and the potential source of new recruits."

The stunning reef at Lady Elliot Island, which is located in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef. Source: Andrew Watson Photography

According to the Australia Institute of Marine Science website researchers found tiny sacs of white eggs in bleached coral reefs between Townsville and Cairns, giving new hope for some of the worst affected parts of The Reef.

According to The Great Barrier Reef Organisation website, there are a diverse range of tourism operations in the Great Barrier Reef including day tours, overnight and extended tours, snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing charters, long range roving tours, aircraft or helicopter tours, bare boats (self-sail), glass-bottomed boat viewing, semi-submersibles and educational trips, cruise ships, beach hire and water sports, passenger ferries, whale watching and swimming with dolphins

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