Assessment of the extent of coral bleaching has become an important part of studies that aim to understand the condition of coral reefs. In this study a reference card that uses differences in coral colour was developed as an inexpensive, rapid and non-invasive method for the assessment of bleaching. The card uses a 6 point brightness/saturation scale within four colour hues to record changes in bleaching state. Changes on the scale of 2 units or more reflect a change in symbiont density and chlorophyll a content, and therefore the bleaching state of the coral. When used by non-specialist observers in the field (here on an intertidal reef flat), there was an inter-observer error of I colour score. This technique improves on existing subjective assessment of bleaching state by visual observation and offers the potential for rapid, wide-area assessment of changing coral condition.