Researchers have found a new large, detached coral reef, measuring more than 500 metres in height, in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia. This is the eighth known detached coral reef in the area, and the first to be discovered in the past 120 years.

Scientists aboard the RV Folker made the discovery while mapping the seafloor off the coast of far north Queensland state, according to the Schmidt Ocean Institute, who facilitated the expedition. The more than 500m tall reef is about one-and-a-half times as tall as the Eiffel Tower and three-tenths as high as the Empire State Building. 

Why Does This Matter?

Robin Beaman, the expedition leader and a marine geologist at James Cook University, told Mongabay, “It’s exciting that we can still find such unusually tall … reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. People have been mapping the Great Barrier Reef since 1770 when James Cook first sailed here. Since then, we have been progressively mapping the shallower coral reefs with technologies as advanced as airborne lidar bathymetry. But it still takes a modern multibeam-sonar equipped vessel, like the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s RV Falkor, to look in the right place and then do the 100% systematic mapping required in the deeper and more remote waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, to reveal such surprising discoveries.”

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The newly-discovered reef is about 1.5 km wide at its base, rising up to 500 m, the shallowest depth being around 40 m below sea level. It is entirely separate from the Great Barrier Reef’s main shelf edge. 

To explore the reef, the team deployed a remotely operated vehicle, the ROV SuBastian, which started at the base of the reef and worked its way up, capturing the entire process and collecting biological samples. 

Excitingly, marine life was found all the way up the reef, but near the summit where waters are warmer and submit, there was a “thriving” shallow coral reef ecosystem, according to the researchers. 

In more good news, the newly-discovered reef seemed to be mostly intact, unaffected by recent bleaching events that have plagued large areas of the northern section of the park.

The discovery of this new coral reef adds to a year of underwater discoveries by the institute. In April, scientists discovered the longest recorded sea creature–a 45m siphonophore in Ningaloo Canyon, plus up to 30 new species. In August, scientists discovered five undescribed species of black coral and sponges and recorded Australia’s first observation of scorpionfish in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks. Finally, in February, deep sea coral gardens and graveyards in Bremer Canyon Marine Park were discovered. 

Featured image by: Schmidt Ocean Institute