Bleaching – A Bad Look for Your Hair, An Even Worse Look for Our Coral Reefs

Coral Bleaching is a phenomenon that most within the dive community are well aware of given the threats that it poses to these fragile ecosystems. But beyond this niche community, many remain ignorant of what’s happening below the waves, and advocates who bring this reality into the light are crucial players in generating the attention necessary to help protect these dying ecosystems. Back in the 90s’, bleaching was brought into the limelight by some incredibly unsuspecting groups. So unsuspecting, that they most likely did not even realize it themselves.

Platinum blonde hair and frosted-tips were a look made popular by the many Boy Bands that burst onto the music scene at perhaps the greatest height or depending on your perspective, one of the lowest points in Pop Music history. Unfortunately, the look caught on amongst a surprising number of young men at the time, desperate for that same sweet, sweet attention. Although it fried the colour out of their hair and succeeded in turning heads, subjectively speaking it was a terrible look. At the time, very few of these bleached heads realized that a different kind of bleaching was taking place in a way never before seen on the coral reefs around our planet.


Misguided artists with bad fashion sense, or pioneering coral reef advocates?

What was happening to the tips of their hair, was being mirrored in our planet’s most biodiverse ecosystems. The year 1998 marked one of the first Global Bleaching Events, and devastated coral coverage in an unprecedented loss of life. Bleaching is no longer a term synonymous with the terrible fashion tastes of young men in the 90’s, instead it has become one of the most obvious and alarming impacts of climate change in the 21st century.

As the dry season lives up to its name this year, the sea surface temperatures around Koh Tao have risen to the point where coral bleaching is noticeable on every dive. Under these conditions, most restoration efforts are an exercise in futility, with corals too weak to take to our coral nurseries and artificial reefs. Instead, we are forced into the helpless position of observers. During this time are energy is best spent documenting the dynamics of these bleaching events, which is crucial in informing our future efforts and understanding of our beloved ecosystems.


An infographic visualizing the intensity of this years Bleaching Event. 

Within our community of concerned ocean lovers, we often take the information about these realities for granted thinking to ourselves that coral bleaching is common knowledge, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In our desperation to inform the public about what’s happening, are we approaching this terrifying problem with such severity that people are being put off by our fervor? On an internet dominated by memes and clickbait, perhaps we need to try a new tact. Maybe by associating the misguided hair-dos of these faux-blonde public figures with coral bleaching, we can take these attention-seeking behaviours and use them to our own ends.

Next time you walk past a bleached blonde bombshell in the streets, don’t let your mind wander to the bad fashion tastes of those histrionic youths from the 90s. Choose instead to be reminded of the terrible reality happening across our planet’s oceans and ask yourself what simple changes you can make in your day to day life so you can be a part of the solution, not the problem. Perhaps behind the seemingly vapid faces of these early pop stars, lay the ecologically conscious and sensitive minds of environmental advocates, desperately and subtly trying to draw our attention to our planet’s coral reefs without us even realizing it – pioneers, fighting for our planet’s oceans before many of us were aware of what was happening. Or more likely, a minor in English Literature has caused me to read too much into this. But if they were, bless the likes of Justin Timberlake, the Carter Brothers, Billy Joe from Greenday, and the many, many other frosted-tip fashionistas of the era…you were ahead of your time without any of us realizing it.

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NHRCP Alumn Chloe Wilms swims across a field of bleached Acropora in the Shallows of Twins, Koh Tao.

With so many incredible online social crazes raising awareness for a multitude of different causes, perhaps its time us ocean lovers made a show of solidarity and bleached our heads for coral reefs. Much like the moustaches of Movember, a sea of platinum blonde coral advocates might just raise a few eyebrows, drawing some crucial attention to these ecosystems that desperately need more of it.

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