Virtual Coral Bleaching

“Bleach” is an art/science project that combines environmental critique with material enquiry. In this project, sodium hypochlorite and nitric acid are used to dissolve photographs of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.


Coral bleaching occurs when corals experience environmental stress, and expel the uni-cellular algae or zooxanthellae that live within them. Corals bleach as a result of a number of factors, but most commonly because of increased water temperatures and ocean acidification, both of which are key elements of anthropogenic climate change.

“Bleach” reflects on this process in a unique manner, using photographic media and chemicals to “materialize” coral bleaching in a different manner than documentary records or scientific data. In this project, ocean acidification and coral bleaching are presented via material metaphor, whereby coral is to the ocean as the slide film is to its environment; in this case, household bleach and a corrosive acid.

Time-lapse photography is used to record the complex interaction between the chemicals and the film. The image is accompanied by hydrophone recordings from sub-tropical Queensland and New South Wales. The ruin of the image, the experience of its loss, and its relation to the world at large lies at the core of this project.

Exhibition and Screening

  • Brenda May Gallery, Sydney, October 2016.
  • Rencontres Internationales Sciences & Cinémas (RISC), Marseilles, France, November 2016.

This project has been produced with the support of the School of Arts and Social Sciences, the School of Environment, Science and Engineering and the Marine Ecology Research Centre at Southern Cross University, and Dolphin Research Australia Inc. A very special thanks to Amanda Reichelt-Brushett and Barbara Harrison for their scientific exprtise, and to Karl Neuenfeldt, Jonathan Pagliano and Liz Hawkins for fantastic hydrophone recordings!