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Australia's Great Barrier Reef may have avoided global coral bleaching event

SYDNEY, Jan. 28 — Australia's Great Barrier Reef may have avoided a significant bleaching event this year, however it is not out of the woods just yet, a government minister said Thursday.

A worldwide coral bleaching event was predicted to occur in the first few months of 2016, aided by the ongoing El Nino weather system, however 200 coral surveys in the north of Queensland state have only found minor, localized bleaching.

Despite the good news, Queensland state's Great Barrier Reef Minister Steven Miles said the reef is "not out of the woods yet" with temperatures expected to peak in February and March.

"Reef scientists are advising that the current El Nino should wane soon, with the benefit that the risks associated with heat stress are likely to subside," Miles said in a statement.

Other areas of the world have not been so lucky, including the economically important reefs in Hawaii suffering their worst event on record since bleaching began a decade ago.

Coral reefs are one of the most important and productive marine ecosystems that the world depends on for tourism and fisheries sustainability.

While it's good news for Queensland state's fishing and tourism industries, University of Queensland coral bleaching expert Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg warned bleaching events are likely to intensify as levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, and therefore sea temperatures, rise.

Coral bleaching occurs when stress such as heat caused the animal to expel the symbiotic algae, loosing vital nutrients and energy reserves, thus color, leading to the wide scale loss of productive habitats for fish.

The coral host then becomes weak and susceptible to disease, and when bleaching is prolonged, the animal can die.

Recent research suggests corals with high levels of fat or other energy reserves can withstand annual bleaching events, which is critical to predicting the persistence of corals and their capacity to recover from more frequent events resulting from climate change.

Severe bleaching events however may take highly impacted coral reefs up to 10 years to recover. (PNA/Xinhua)

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