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Coral Reef Discovered in Australian Ocean

Georgie Chantrell-Plant reports on a new discovery in the Australian Ocean.

Photo by Daniel Torobekov

During a year-long expedition of oceans surrounding Australia, the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) has discovered a Reef extending 1,640 feet (500 metres) below the ocean surface, making it taller than the Empire State Building. It is the first detached reef discovered in these waters for more than 100 years. 

This discovery is part of the Great Barrier Reef, which is the single longest reef in the world, stretching 1,400 miles across the surface of the North Eastern Australian Ocean. The new 1-mile wide 'block-like' structure is free-standing, with its peak reaching just 130 feet (40m) below the surface. 

"To find a new half-a-kilometer tall reef in… the well-recognized Great Barrier Reef shows how mysterious the world is just beyond our coastline." – Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute.

Innovation and Discovery

The reef was discovered by a team of scientists led by Dr Robin Beaman from James Cook University, using the Institute’s robot ‘SuBastian’ to conduct underwater mapping of the seafloor. High-resolution footage of the new discovery was live-streamed on the SOI website and Youtube Channel. There are seven other detached reefs in the area, some having been discovered as early as the 1800s, including the reef at Raine Island which serves as a prominent nesting area for Green Sea Turtles.

As SOI co-founder Wendy Schmidt says, relatively little has been known about the ocean and marine life until recently. However, the development of new technologies such as 3D mapping has made the recent discovery and many others possible, further enabling scientists to better understand the complex ecosystems with which we share our planet.

"To not only 3-D map the reef in detail, but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible." – Dr Robin Beaman

In April, SOI discovered the largest recorded sea-creature in the Ningaloo Canyon, a 45m Siphonophore, as well as 30 new species of marine creatures. In August, they also captured the first recording of a rare scorpionfish in the Coral Sea. The Institute’s Campaign to explore the Northern Depths of the Great Barrier Reef will continue until the 17th November. Further maps will be made available through AusSeabed as part of a national sea-mapping program, and will also contribute to the Nippon Foundation GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project.

Climate Concern

The majestic underwater monolith was found to support more 1,500 species of fish and hundreds of different corals: a range of biodiversity that is commonly associated with the Great Barrier Reef. However, as with many reefs across the world, this new discovery is at risk of habitat loss and damage as a result of climate change.

With sea temperatures rising an around 0.5 degrees Celsius since the 19th century, the reef now faces a great risk of heat stress and coral bleaching, which can harm its ability to build skeletons that act as key habitats for marine life. Significant changes in the ocean’s temperature, in addition to its acidification due to carbon dioxide absorption and severe weather events, make it difficult for the reef to recover and protect itself from the devastating effects posed by our changing climate.


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