CYCLONE Debbie has been a breath of fresh air for coral bleaching on the hardest-hit parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
As the category four storm wreaked havoc on Australia's east coast, it also brought blessed relief to a mass coral die-off in an unprecedented back-to-back bleaching event on prime tourist dive sites in the Coral Sea.
Latest in-water surveys of the pristine Ribbon reefs off Lizard Island this week show a dramatic drop of up to three degrees in coral-killing sea surface temperatures off the state's remote far north.
"Cyclone Debbie looks like the turning point to allow the reef to bounce back from this mass coral bleaching event,'' said marine biologist Jess Walker.
"With water temperatures down to about 28 degrees, there will be less stress on the coral, less chance of bleaching, and less chance of coral mortality,'' she said.
"Some sites are not fantastic, but there is still lots of life, colour and healthy baby coral coming back.
"It is a positive sign."
Free-diver Audrey Buchholzer, of France, on a three-day dive expedition aboard the Spirit of Freedom in the Coral Sea, said she was stunned by the "flashy" colours and kaleidoscope of marine life on the outer reef.
"I had to see it with my own eyes,'' the 24-year-old said.
"I'd heard negative reports the Reef was dead. That's not true.
"There are patches of dead and bleached coral, but so much of it is alive and thriving.
"It is an underwater wonderland.''
Fellow diver Jennifer Petrie 31, of London, was disappointed to see the Great Barrier Reef was not like it was depicted in Finding Nemo.
"There was lots of dead bits, but still a lot of beauty,'' she said.
"It's a million times better than the Mediterranean.
"It's in my top three dive sites in the world."
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