I was out of internet range, anchored on No Name Reef, when the federal government announced its too little, too late $60 million package "to secure the viability of the Great Barrier Reef".
No Name Reef, sometimes called Cormorant Reef, 200 kilometres north-east of Cairns, had a reputation for spectacular coral. Take these 2012 and 2013 TripAdvisor entries, for example:
"Incredible coral. The best I have ever seen. The colours and shapes were fantastic."
And: "Wow! What gorgeous, bright-coloured coral and fish! It was stunning and I would absolutely recommend everyone take a trip out to No Name Reef. It was the best snorkelling we've ever experienced!"
Now, a lot of the reef is a coral graveyard.
There is no stark white bleached coral, photos of which illustrated the transient media coverage of the 2016 and 2017 bleachings. Those corals have now turned greeny-brown, broken off and fallen to the surrounding sandy bottom. Bommies that were once totally covered with a diversity of coral types and colours are now mostly just rock or dead ground-cover coral.
Sure, there are some places that are still well worth seeing, where the bleaching was not heavy. Tourist operators have made it their business to find them so their clients get a good reef experience and tell the world about it. That is the misleading impression, not the reports of dead coral.
Gone are the pre-2015 days when you could put an anchor down on any reef anywhere in the large anchorage areas designated by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and be guaranteed an exquisite coral garden, with no one else to share it.
That tourist operators can still give people a reasonably good reef experience is similar to tours showing people apes in Rwanda or orangutans in Borneo. It is no indication of the long-term future of the natural wonder.
The government was keen to stress the importance of the 64,000 jobs that depend on the reef, as if that would be the only reason for doing anything. But even on that economic score, the $60 million to "secure its viability", aside from its arrogance, is pitifully low, given the $6.4 billion a year the reef contributes to the economy.
This is a one-off amount of less that 1 per cent of annual earnings. Most people pay much more than that year in, year out to maintain and insure their homes or businesses.
Moreover, the package doesn't address the fundamental problem. It's directed at agricultural run-off, coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish and recovery from bleaching. These are important, but nowhere near as destructive as climate change itself.
The 2016 and 2017 bleaching was caused by the seawater being too warm. The warmth was caused by too much carbon in the atmosphere, which was put there by humans.
And the trouble for coral is that, whereas most creatures on earth can survive in ranges of 10, 20 or 30 degrees of temperature, coral can die with just a one-degree rise in the hitherto maximum temperature. This is because coral gets most of its nutrients symbiotically from zooxanthellae algae, which live within the coral and give it its colour.
If the temperature rises more than one degree than the hitherto maximum temperature for just four weeks, the algae starts producing toxic substances, so the coral expels it, and it thereby bleaches. If the temperature stays that high for a further four weeks, the bleached coral cannot recover and dies.
So whereas other changes wrought by climate change (beach erosion, more bushfires and heatwaves, etc) are gradual, the damage to coral is more dramatic.
Ironically, coral is like the canaries that used to be taken down coal mines. The canaries would die at the first sign of danger: a build-up of poisonous gas (in a way, a localised climate change).
Coral's high vulnerability to climate change is fact. If you have snorkelled and dived on the reef regularly over the past five years or so, the evidence is before your eyes.
So it is counterproductive for people like Col McKenzie, the head of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, to shoot the messenger, as he did recently when he urged the federal government to stop funding Professor Terry Hughes and his colleagues at James Cook University because their reports on beaching were "harming the tourism industry". McKenzie called Hughes "a dick" – an indication of the sophistication of his argument.
It is foolish and short-sighted for an industry that depends on the reef to deny an existential threat to it. Far better to recognise the threat and do everything to avert it.
But as we have seen, the measured increase in ocean and air temperatures since the Industrial Revolution are already enough to imperil the reef. It's not something Australia can address on its own.
If you can't do something on your own, the sensible approach is to seek help while contributing as much as you can yourself. If we want others to do more to reduce carbon emissions to help save our reef, we should lead the action. We certainly should not approve new coal mines or coal power stations, let alone subsidise them.
Australia can only hope that the world does enough to reduce and reverse the process of putting carbon into the atmosphere in time for the reef to recover before more bleachings knock off what remains.
But to end on a hopeful note. Staghorn coral, which is the most vulnerable to bleaching, is also among the fastest-growing coral. And out on No Name Reef, I could see isolated, small, four or five-centimetre-high bits of blue and yellow staghorn growing out of the greeny-brown coral graveyard.
We should treat the two bleaching events as warnings and act, not deny or despair. Given the importance of the reef to Australia's economy and standing in the world, to advocate business as usual verges on the treasonous.