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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 March 2007, 08:56 GMT
Rains helping cool Barrier Reef
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Batfish on Great Barrier Reef
Scientists fear global warming and pollution are harming the reef
Recent torrential rain and monsoons in northern Queensland have provided some rare relief for the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The poor conditions have significantly reduced ocean temperatures, making them the coolest for up to five years.

It has been a blessing for the corals - usually in the summer they are at risk of serious scorching and bleaching.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest living organism, stretching over more than 345,000 sq km.

It is also the world's most protected marine area and has been under threat from a combination of global warming, pollution and over-fishing.

Cooler water

Scientists had predicted that this summer would be a tough one for the reef. They feared that extreme heat would scorch the coral. But recent storms that dumped torrential rain across much of Australia's north-east have brought some unexpected good news.

An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef (file image)
More than 2,000 km long
Home to 1,500 types of fish
Only living thing the naked eye can see from space
The region's normally warm seas have been stirred. Jeff Maynard of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says the water has become cooler.

"This year reef temperatures have shown that temperatures for the majority of the Great Barrier Marine Park are below the long-term averages we see for this time of year," he said.

"So right now we're considering bleaching risks to be low compared to bleaching years like '98 and 2002."

The future, however, still does not look good. Researchers believe as the world's climate continues to change the bleaching of the coral will become increasingly common.

Bleaching occurs when unusually warm seas cause the organisms that make up the coral to die. All that is left is a white limestone skeleton.

The Great Barrier Reef is home to 1,500 types of fish and at more than 2,000 km long, it is the only living thing the naked eye can see from space.

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21 Feb 04 |  Asia-Pacific
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27 Nov 03 |  Science/Nature
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19 Aug 02 |  Asia-Pacific

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