Satellite data suggests Great Barrier Reef bleaching has started early this year.

Dr Selina Ward, a coral reef biologist from the University of Queensland, says the latest photographs indicate bleaching has begun weeks ahead of forecasts, albeit in a very localised area so far.

“It was quite a large stretch and there were some very recently dead corals,” Dr Ward told The Guardian.

“Hopefully it isn’t a sign of more to come.

“It is the earliness and the early death that worries me,” Dr Ward said.

She did note that the new satellite data is not yet an indication this year will see severe or widespread bleaching.

The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has updated its bleaching outlook to state that the entire Great Barrier Reef has “possible” or “bleaching likely” status by February.

“Currently not expecting anything as bad as the last two years but these corals don’t need repeated heat stress,” said NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program on social media.