Last month I was fortunate enough to be asked by AIMS (Australian Institute of Marine Science) and Catlin Sea Survey to photograph Scott Reef and Rowley Shoals and investigate the expected coral bleaching. Armed with my usual array of underwater cameras, Catlin also supplied a 360 camera from the states to capture the reefs in 3D, much the same as Google Street View. It's always great to play with new technology, especially underwater and this was a lot of fun - and we got some pretty cool shots.
Technology aside, Scott Reef was not in good shape. General water temperatures whilst diving would get up to 33 degrees, and our on board Oceanographer Rebecca Green (Twitter @Green.Becks) found that even at depths of 50m the temperature was still around 32-33 degrees.
The high water temperatures are due to a knock on effect from an El Nino event earlier this year. This event has caused prolonged water temperatures over an extended time for which the corals can not tolerate, become stressed and then bleach.
Our researchers were estimating up to 70% corals were bleached or dead at our routine monitoring sites. The images I shot display a vast amount of colour, lots of vivid blues, pinks and yellows- this is the corals natural pigment, and is only exhibited once they have ejected their zooxanthellae...in other words they are on the death bed when showing this. Recently bleached corals were brilliant white, and still alive, but for how long.
I photographed Scott Reef with AIMS back in 2012; the images taken then were published in a coffee style book "Discovering Scott Reef". The book described the various features of Scott Reef and it's noteworthy accomplishment of recovering from the last bleaching event 15 years ago. Scientist James Gilmour who has been visiting the reef for over 15 years is afraid that with predicted high water temperatures in coming years that the reef might not be able to recover as it once did. A sad tale of such a beautiful and unique area.
If you have any questions or would like to know more email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment. There is a fair amount of online content about the GBR but not much from Western Australia, not to mention a few media outlets misinterpreting worldwide findings!