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  1. ITV Report

Half of Great Barrier Reef 'dead or dying'

A diver inspects the Reef's condition. Credit: Reuters

Almost half the coral at the Great Barrier Reef is dead or dying, according to Australian scientists.

The world's largest coral reef system is a major tourist attraction, and brings around £2.7 billion into the economy each year.

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland in Australia. Credit: DPA/Press Association Images

Warmer water is forcing the coral to expel living algae, causing it to calcify and turn white.

The process, known as bleaching, is now thought to affect 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef.

Mildly bleached coral can recover if the temperature drops, but scientists say nearly half of the coral is already dead or dying.

We've never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it's like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once.

Our estimate at the moment is that close to 50 percent of the coral is already dead or dying.

– Professor Terry Hughes, National Coral Bleaching Taskforce

Scientists believe climate change is the underlying cause of the bleaching, and that the impact has been exacerbated by El Nino, one of the strongest weather systems in nearly 20 years.

The Australian Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, says this is a "significant event", and that the government is "taking it seriously".