The longest global coral bleaching event in history is now devastating reefs in the crystal clear waters of the Maldives, with images released exclusively to the Guardian powerfully illustrating the extent of the damage there.
Photographed by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, the images captured the event in May as it moved beyond the now devastated Great Barrier Reef and into waters further west.
“The bleaching we just witnessed in the Maldives was truly haunting,” said Richard Vevers, founder of the Ocean Agency.
“It’s rare to see reefs bleach quite so spectacularly. These were healthy reefs in crystal clear water at the height of an intense bleaching event. The flesh of the corals had turned clear and we were seeing the skeletons of the animals glowing white for as far as the eye could see – it was a beautiful, yet deeply disturbing sight.”
The Maldives is series of coral atolls, built from the remains of coral. The livelihoods of people there depend on the reefs through tourism, fisheries and as a wave-break that helps prevent inundation on low-lying islands.
The photographs were part of an ongoing project, in partnership with Google, the University of Queensland and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency to capture the global bleaching event as it moves around the world.
The event started in mid 2014 in the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii, which then got hit again in 2015. In early 2016 it spread to the Great Barrier Reef where 93% of its nearly 3,000 reefs were hit by bleaching. Western Australia’s reefs in the Indian Ocean have also experienced severe bleaching.