Large sections of coral are threatened in the northern reaches of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Up to 50 per cent of the corals in the area are affected. Researchers say this is the worst level of coral bleaching in 15 years in the far northern part of the reef. The bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions such as warmer sea temperatures or acidification occur. One of the worst bleaching episodes occurred in 1988, when the El Nino phenomenon was especially strong.
Australian environment minister Greg Hunt has said it is a cause for concern and stated funding will continue for the survey of the 40 sites affected in the region. "Continuing to invest in reef science is critical for ongoing management of our iconic natural wonder. This is particularly important, with the current coral bleaching event now reaching level three," he said in the statement.
Over the next decade, the Australian government will invest some two billion Australian dollars (1.3 billion euros, $1.5 billion) in protecting the reef, in a program that will include stopping waste-dumping, limited port development and introducing new water cleansing projects.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem and one of the main sources of tourism in the region. The reef is some 2,300 kilometers (1,429 miles) in length and is made up of around 3,000 individual reefs.
They are home to over 600 different corals and thousands of animal species. The Great Barrier Reef was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.
pt / eg (dpa,afp)