Removing Colour, For A Sick Story

My Aunty Bunty used to work in a factory in Dundee, in Scotland, with thousands of other women all adding colour to black and white photographs. She was allowed to be creative; the idea was to make people happy. So, for example, she could add more pink to the cheeks of young girls on holidays at the beach.

Nowadays scientist regularly do the opposite. They strip colour from pretty pictures because they want to make people feel sad, specifically about the corals at the Great Barrier Reef. They are not very nice people. That is the unfortunate truth.

Greeting cards and postcards were once big business and everyone wanted them more colourful. Nowadays, Great Barrier Reef research is big business, all funded by the government. It relies on the general population being fearful – children anxious and the more so the better.

I wish this wasn’t the world that I lived in, because the Great Barrier Reef is still so colourful. Often the colour is from the fish, with the most common colour of coral, the world over, and since forever, being beige.

A recent Great Barrier Reef photograph, taken by my daughter at Saxon Reef, off Cairns.
A recent Great Barrier Reef photograph, taken by my daughter at Saxon Reef, off Cairns.

There is one photograph in particular that has been republished over and over of fields of beige branching Acropora, that are so extensive and fringing Heron Island; except the beige colour has been stripped from the corals making them appear bleached, when they are not.

I have been to Heron Island and swam over these same corals, they are not colourful. Like most corals at reefs around the world they are beige in colour. It doesn’t mean they are unhealthy; in fact, they are quite fine.

By placing a colour chart into the foreground of this photograph, correct colour balance can be applied post production. Photograph of Jennifer Marohasy taken by Stuart Ireland swimming above the fields of Acropora fringing Heron Island in November 2021.
By placing a colour chart into the foreground of this photograph, correct colour balance can be applied post production. Photograph of Jennifer Marohasy taken by Stuart Ireland swimming above the fields of Acropora fringing Heron Island in November 2021.

What is not right, I would go so far as to describe it as sick, is when the colours are stripped from these already pale corals to make them look bleached, as though they risk imminent mass death.

It is a fraud to strip the colour from this photograph, and/or to not undertake correct colour balance post production. I have written to the Sydney Morning Herald about it, to Catlin Surveys affiliated with the University of Queensland and UNESCO, and also David Vevers from Washington-based The Ocean Agency. I’ve been ignored, click here for more information.

And, alas, this same photograph has now been republished in The Guardian this weekend.

It is the only photograph of coral, accompanying a feature story in The Guardian by Graham Readfearn. Given the famous scientist, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, has spent the last thirty years working on the reef, and according to Readfearn has witnessed so many devasting bleaching events, why didn’t they use one of his photographs? Doesn’t he have any? Is it the case he doesn’t have any of mass bleaching?

Why have they republished this fraud – this fake?

Some time ago I tracked the photograph down and found the original on Flickr.

The photograph was almost certainly taken on 22 October 2014 at Heron Island, though this date and place is rarely if ever included, nor any information about the postproduction colour stripping or lack of colour balance.

There was no mass bleaching of the corals fringing Heron Island in October 2014.

To read more about the history of the fake photograph republished this weekend by The Guardianclick here.

What does it say about Western civilization that journalists, scientist, and politicians routinely claim the corals at the Great Barrier Reef are suffering, when they are actually quite healthy? How sick are we, or at least the journalists, scientists and politicians who tell such untrue stories about the Great Barrier Reef.

Another photograph of beige-coloured Acropora taken under-the-water at Heron Island when I visited in November 2021. And can you see the yellow fish?
Another photograph of beige-coloured Acropora taken under-the-water at Heron Island when I visited in November 2021. And can you see the yellow fish?

A little film that I made with Stuart Ireland, called Bleached Colourful, includes some footage of me swimming with a turtle over the fields of beige-coloured Acropora fringing Heron Island.

Originally appeared in: Dr Jennifer Marohasy’s Website