Massive 500-metre-tall coral structure discovered off Australia

28 Oct 2020

Side mapping profile of the newly discovered 500-metre detached reef. Image: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Australian scientists have discovered an enormous coral structure 500 metres tall – the first discovery of its kind in more than 120 years.

While coral reefs across the globe remain under threat as a result of the climate crisis, a team of scientists have discovered a truly rare find. The Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies announced that a massive detached coral reef 500 metres high – taller than the Empire State Building – was found just off Cape York in the Great Barrier Reef.

The reef was discovered while mapping the northern Great Barrier Reef seabed from the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor.

The base of the reef is approximately 1.5km wide and then rises to 500 metres in height to its shallowest depth, which is just 40 metres below the sea surface. This is the first detached reef found in almost 120 years, according to Dr Tom Bridge, a principal investigator on the expedition.

“This newly discovered detached reef adds to the seven other tall detached reefs in the area – all otherwise mapped in the late 1800s,” he said.

The rear of the Falkor vessel about to deploy its underwater robot.

The underwater robot ‘Subastian’ deployed off Falkor’s back deck. Image: Schmidt Ocean Institute

‘New oceanscapes are opening to us’

According to Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute, there are still many unknown structures and species within our oceans.

“The state of our knowledge about what’s in the ocean has long been so limited,” she said. “Thanks to new technologies that work as our eyes, ears and hands in the deep ocean, we have the capacity to explore like never before. New oceanscapes are opening to us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us.”

The Falkor vessel is currently on a 12-month exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia, with scientists looking to probe and map the depths of the northern Great Barrier Reef until mid-November.

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Southampton found coral that, instead of going white as a result of rising ocean temperatures, emits a dazzling range of bright neon colours. It was determined this was the result of coral ‘sunscreen’ that it creates, possibly to encourage algae vital to its survival to return.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic