Recent torrential rains in northeastern Australia have provided some rare relief for the Great Barrier Reef. The rains and cloudy conditions have significantly reduced ocean temperatures, making them the coolest in years. As Phil Mercer reports from Sydney, the reef is usually at risk of serious scorching and bleaching during the summer months.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest living organism, stretching over more than 345,000 square kilometers. It is also the world's most protected marine area.
Still, it is under threat, from a combination of global warming, pollution and over-fishing.
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 northeast have brought some unexpected good news.
The normally warm seas that cover the reef have been stirred, and Jeff Maynard of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says the temperatures have dropped.
"This year reef temperatures are showing that temperatures for the majority of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are below the long-term averages we see for this time of year," he said. "So right now, we're considering coral bleaching risks to be low compared to bleaching years like '98 and 2002."
The future, however, still does not look good.
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.
Researchers believe that as the world's climate continues to change, the bleaching of the coral will become increasingly common.
The Great Barrier Reef, designated a World Heritage site, is Australia's most popular destination for tourists.
It is home to 1,500 types of fish, and at more than 2,000 kilometers long, it is the only living thing the naked eye can see from space.