split view of a coral reef above and below the ocean surface

Photo by Cristina Mittermeier



Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in Crisis: Unraveling the Devastating Effects of Mass Coral Bleaching

*** Expedition in Progress ***

We journey to Australia’s natural marine wonders aboard the SeaLegacy 1 to understand and protect the country’s vibrant coastal marine ecosystems. Upon arrival, we soon find ourselves right in the center of a mass coral bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef, an environmental episode driven by climate change and a temperamental El Niño climate pattern.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful crown jewels of the Pacific Ocean and beloved by people across the globe. The world’s largest coral reef ecosystem stretches across 344,400 square kilometers (132,974 square miles) filled with over 2,900 individual coral reefs and hundreds of islands. To illustrate how expansive the area is, it is equivalent to 70 million football fields and still larger than the entire regions of the United Kingdom, Holland, and Switzerland combined.

Corals (marine animals that have a symbiotic relationship with algae) serve as an ambassador to how we can keep our blue planet thriving and offer many benefits to all life on Earth. The massive coral reef landscape is home to over 9,000 marine species and supports millions of species beyond that by providing a sanctuary for passing pelagic marine life, a nursery for wildlife to safely birth their young, and key sustenance and shelter for all those that take refuge within its intricate wide network of polyps. The reef also serves an important role in absorbing carbon from the ocean, as it needs the chemical element for its own survival. Furthermore, spanning over 2,300 kilometers (1429 miles) along Australia’s northeastern coastline, the coral reef system offers vital defense against storms and flooding from natural disasters.

And yet, the Greater Barrier Reef is at risk and highly vulnerable to looming environmental impact from increased ocean temperatures due to the climate crisis. Corals have a very slow growth rate and can take up to hundreds of years to fully form. For a reef to reach the brevity in size of the great reef today, it is estimated to take up to hundreds of thousands of years.

As a result, our expedition aims to capture the natural history of the coral bleaching event taking place in the Great Barrier Reef and highlight the global impact on the marine ecosystem through our storytelling.

“[Coral] can only live within a very narrow range of temperature and light: make it a little darker, they die. Make it a little hotter, they die. Make it a little colder, they die. They have developed around a belt in the tropics where they can survive. It’s very narrow, and if things change, they’re gone.”

Cristina Mittermeier
Co-Founder & Lead Storyteller

The mission

Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching

Photo by Cristina Mittermeier

The Great Barrier Reef is undergoing its fifth bleaching event in only eight years and seventh mass bleaching already.

Our co-founders have embarked on a multi-year expedition to Australia to document the region’s unique ocean and coastal ecosystems. En route to the southern continent, the team connected with marine biologist and team leader Dr. Emma Camp from the Future Reefs Team (FRT) within the Climate Change Cluster at the University of Technology Sydney. As a 2019 Rolex Awards Associate Laureate, Dr. Camp’s research focuses on the physiology, ecology, and bio-geochemistry of coral reefs to uncover more scientific discovery about highly tolerant “super corals” to help safeguard the future of coral reefs that are in danger of survival. She shares with our co-founders about the impending mass coral bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef and stresses the importance of bringing global attention to the catastrophic occurrence.

Why is it important for the world to know about the bleaching event? Though reef ecosystems have been documented to survive coral bleaching, very few are able to return to a thriving state. Once a coral reef is lost to the ocean, all the life it supports is at greater risk as well.

This scientific insight compels our team to depart the current expedition in New Zealand and sail the SeaLegacy 1 to Australia to witness the devastation firsthand: a once lush, vibrant ecosystem that is quickly turning ghostly white. What awaited the team was a distressing sight, as the corals, under the strain of record-high ocean temperatures, were actively expelling the vibrant algae that once thrived within their polyps’ tissues. Without the relationship of algae to provide its primary food source, the coral stands as a decaying carcass now more vulnerable to environmental impact.

The result

worst coral bleaching event of the Great Barrier Reef, 2024

worst coral bleaching event of the Great Barrier Reef, 2024

However, once the SeaLegacy 1 arrives in Australia, what we found next was an unexpected lifeline of hope.

We’re currently working on enhancing this expedition page. Keep an eye out for updates as our expedition progresses and our impactful media campaigns unfold. We appreciate your patience!

Dr. Camp is leading a group of students in the field to find the corals that have naturally survived and uncover what enables them to withstand an increasingly heating ocean. She and her team are crafting tools and technology to empower communities in their ongoing efforts to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef, ultimately aiming to establish multiple nurseries for these resilient corals. Through our conversations with Dr. Camp, we understand that her work, complementary to our own mission, is not only driven by an intrinsic love of the ocean, but a desire to keep the reef alive for future generations.

It is through this shared passion to protect and restore our ocean, that our storytelling comes alive. Together, we will showcase the visually stunning, emotive, educational, and inspirational story of the Great Barrier Reef and the larger community of researchers diligently working every day to protect it.

Stay tuned for more updates from the field!

Support the story of the Great Barrier Reef by joining The Tide, our community of ocean advocates turning the tide for our shared ocean.


Photos by co-founder Cristina Mittermeier.

“Hope isn’t lost. Being here has shown me there is resilience in the system.”

Dr. Emma Camp
Marine biologist and team leader of University of Technology Sydney’s Future Reefs Team (FRT)