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Coral experts from around the world are meeting on the Great Barrier Reef to hammer out a research strategy in response to coral 'bleaching'.

Mass coral bleaching — estimated to have destroyed about one-sixth of the world’s coral colonies during the last major occurrence in 1998 — is attributed to mild increases in ocean temperature.

Although coral deaths so far this year has been confined to reefs close to the northeast Australian coast, the researchers warn that if conditions don’t improve substantially, severe bleaching and mortality could occur over extensive areas of reef.

The group of experts plan to establish a global network of researchers within six months to investigate further the mysteries that still surround the phenomenon.

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Reference: Nature 415, 947 (2002)

Photo credit: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary