Reef off Gladstone's coast among the healthiest in GBR
THE aftermath of Cyclone Winston is likely to have been the Southern Great Barrier Reef's saving grace from what is described the worst coral bleaching event yet.
The final results of extensive aerial and underwater surveys reveal that 93% of the reef has been affected.
It's a mixed picture of very severe, moderate and little damage that changes dramatically from north to south along the 2300km length of the Reef.
But, once researchers reached Gladstone's coast, they were confident they had reached some of the healthier coral.
Just 1% the Southern Great Barrier Reef was severely bleached, compared to 81% in the northern sector.
Coral Bleaching Taskforce project manager James Kerry said it the results in the SGBR were pleasing.
"It was nice to be able to end on a high note," Mr Kerry said.
"Because we had the remanants of Cyclone Winston that brought a lot of cloud cover and rain over a period of the summer, that has cooled the waters down in the Southern Great Barrier and the mid-sections of the reef.
"If that hadn't have happened it could have been far worse," he said.
The aerial surveys stopped at Swains Reef, where researchers were confident they had reached healthy coral.
But the results still show a very bleak outlook for the majority of what is one of Australia's greatest natural assets.
"We were hoping we would found the southern boundary (of the bleaching) sooner than we did," he said.
"We're hoping that given the severity of this event people will sit up and will actually realise this is climate change happening and it's very real."
Underwater, teams of scientific divers have confirmed the accuracy of the aerial surveys, and are continuing to measure the ongoing impact of the bleaching.
Australia's tourism industry has a longstanding commitment to protecting its most valuable natural asset, the Great Barrier Reef. Reef tourism generates an annual income of $5 billion, and employs nearly 70,000 people.
The Australian government has long recognised that climate change is the biggest threat to the Reef and the people who depend on it for their livelihood.