7 June 2016


Dramatic new images show once beautiful coral on the Great Barrier Reef now covered in brown slime.

“Some people see coral bleached white and think it looks pretty. But this is what follows – it’s literally an attack of the slime,” said WWF-Australia spokesperson Richard Leck.

“The dead coral skeleton gets covered in algae and looks horrible. This is what’s happening right now to 22% of coral on the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

The images were taken recently at Lizard Island - the ground zero of the mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

The stills and 360-degree vision were shot by XL Catlin Seaview Survey and the video was filmed by Laura Richardson from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University.

Richard Vevers, founder of The Ocean Agency and Executive Director of the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, was shocked by the aftermath of the bleaching.

“We normally photograph reefs at the height of bleaching and they usually look stunning at this stage even though they are often dying. This time, however we were a few weeks after the bleaching and it was one of the most disgusting sights I’ve ever seen,” Mr Vevers said. 

“The hard corals were dead and covered in algae, looking like they’ve been dead for years."

“The soft corals were still dying and the flesh of the animals was decomposing and dripping off the reef structure."

“I can’t even tell you how bad I smelt after the dive - the smell of millions of rotting animals,” he said.

PhD candidate Laura Richardson went to Lizard Island over April and May to survey coral bleaching for her PhD research.

“The first dive I did on this recent trip brought tears to my eyes. It was hard not to be emotionally affected by what we saw,” Ms Richardson said.

“So many corals were already dead with turf-algae growing over the skeletons that remain."

“Just a few months ago, these reefs were characterised by live, healthy, colourful corals and fish. Now many of the reefs are unrecognisable."

“I was expecting the reefs to be ghostly beautiful. But what we saw were largely dead and dying reefs. It was a sight I was not prepared for, and had hoped I would never see in my lifetime,” she said. 

Mr Leck said algae-covered dead coral was the future for the Reef without increased efforts to tackle climate change and water pollution flowing to the Reef. 

Hi-res images and video available to media on request.

WWF-Australia Media Contact: Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571, msymons@wwf.org.au