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Great Barrier Reef: New Huge Coral Found

Emily Davies explores how the discovery of a new coral off the coast of Goolboodi has given scientists hope in face of a changing climate.

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Photo by Taryn Elliott

A new, “exceptionally large” coral has been discovered in a surprisingly healthy condition. Estimated to be more than 400 years old, the coral is likely the largest of its type and one of the oldest on the Great Barrier Reef, according to the journal Scientific Reports.

Other regions of the Great Barrier Reef have suffered from the warmer, more acidic ocean as global warming increases. However, this coral is much healthier, with 70% being live coral.

Coral Bleaching

Coral often dies from warm water and exposure to the sun from low tides too.

Named Muga dhambi – “big coral” – the coral was found in a region of the reef that is very remote and well-protected. Nevertheless, it must have survived numerous bleaching events and 80 significant cyclones in addition to the generally declining ocean condition.

Muga dhambi is a type of coral, 'Porites', and is one of 16 common species. 

Muga dhambi resides off the Goolboodi coast, part of the Queensland’s Palm Island Group and was found during citizen science research in March. It is measured to be 5.3 meters tall and 10.4 meters wide. The Manbarra people named it as it resides in their sea-country, and even they were unaware of its existence until its recent discover.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is home to over 1,500 species of fish, 400 types of coral, along with a vast myriad of anemones, marine worms and other species. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, it is the only World Heritage site with such a broad scale of biodiversity.

However, since 1995, over half of the coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has died because of warmer, acidic water caused by global warming. Although all types of coral have suffered, the biggest decline is of branching and table-shaped corals, which are habitats for marine life.

A New Hope

Although the Paris Agreement has committed to keeping global warming below 1.5C, this is looking increasingly unlikely. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that 70% to 90% of the warm water coral reefs that are alive today will die by the time we reach 1.5C, and at 2C, it will be rare to find a surviving coral reef. Already, in Australia, marine life is being found in places they’ve never been, and many species are dying out.

The good news is that projects to save corals not only on the Great Barrier Reef but worldwide are on the rise – for example, heat-resistant coral to protect against bleaching. The 'Coral Vita' project in the Bahamas, who have found a way to regrow coral 50 times faster than normal, were one of the recipients of the £1m 'Earthshot Prize' from the Duke of Cambridge. As with the discovery of the muga dhambi coral, scientists have expressed hope for the future of ocean biodiversity in face of a rapidly changing climate.


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