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'Devastating' Huge Coral Bleaching On Great Barrier Reef Revealed In New Photos

"Alarm bells are ringing" in Australia's north as another huge wave of coral bleaching hits the Great Barrier Reef, with temperatures surging and killing the coral.

The federal government's lead reef protection agency on Wednesday discovered significant bleaching on three reefs in the far north of the world's largest coral reef ecosystem.

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"That is the first time we've seen significant bleaching so far this summer," said David Wachenfeld, chief scientist with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

"It is a confirmation of our growing concern about what is happening out on the reef at the moment."

Images of coral bleaching on the Lizard Island Reef were released on Thursday. Image: Dr Lyle Vail / Australian Museum Lizard Island Reef Research Station

Dr Lyle Vail, Director of the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station, shared photos of the bleaching event which he took on Thursday. He claimed up to 40 percent of coral in some areas had been bleached.

"Alarm bells are ringing, we’re in troubled waters,” he said.

Heat stress that has built up on the far northern, central and southern parts of the reef over the summer has intensified over the last week.

"Alarm bells are ringing," an expert said. Image: Dr Lyle Vail / Australian Museum Lizard Island Reef Research Station

"These levels of heat stress are definitely capable of causing coral bleaching and we are now at a heightened level of alertness for what is happening out there in the park," Dr Wachenfeld said.

A bleaching warning has been issued for large parts of the Torres Strait and far northern management areas of the marine park, where significant bleaching across multiple hotspots is likely.

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Most of the area covered by the marine park was 0.5 to 1.5C above average as of February 11, with some central and southern parts being two to three degrees warmer.

"February is the hottest month of the year on the reef so these anomalies are really very concerning," Dr Wachenfeld said.

Temperatures are above average in the region. Image: Dr Lyle Vail / Australian Museum Lizard Island Reef Research Station

Richard Leck, Head of Oceans for the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, said environmental groups were concerned by the bleaching event happening so soon after huge fires tore through the country.

"Our hearts broke watching mega-fires kill our koalas. It will be just as devastating if climate change kills our coral," he said.

"Australia is staring down the barrel of the reality of climate change in 2020."

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Leck called on the federal government to take further urgent action to address climate change and emissions.

"The Australian government should urgently develop a national Energy Transition Plan that is 1.5°C compatible and undertake our fair share of emissions reduction to hold the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” he said.

Image: Dr Lyle Vail / Australian Museum Lizard Island Reef Research Station

The reef authority has been told of bleaching in other areas and is sending staff to survey the damage.

Further heat stress is expected over the next few weeks as temperatures remain high.

With AAP.