Scientists discover undocumented 500m detached coral reef in Australian waters for the first time in 120 years

written by Oceanographic Staff

On October 20, scientists discovered a massive detached coral reef in the Great Barrier Reef – the first to be discovered in more than 120 years. Taller than the Empire State Building, the reef measures 500m in height and was discovered by scientists aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor, which is currently on a year-long exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia.

The research team, led by Dr. Robin Beaman of James Cook University, made the discovery while conducting underwater mapping of the northern Great Barrier Reef seafloor. On Oct. 25 using Schmidt Ocean Institute’s underwater robot SuBastian to explore the new reef.

“This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “The state of our knowledge about what’s in the ocean has long been so limited. 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 base of the reef is 1.5km wide and rises 500m to its shallowest depth of just 40m below the ocean’s surface. This recently discovered detached coral reef adds to the seven other tall detached reefs in the area, mapped since the late 1800s. The discovery of this new coral reef adds to a year of underwater discoveries by Schmidt Ocean Institute.

In August, scientists recorded Australia’s first observation of rare scorpionfish in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks. They also discovered five undiscovered species of black coral and sponges. In April, scientists discovered a 45m siphonophore – the longest recorded sea creature – in the Ningaloo Canyon, as well as up to 30 previously undiscovered species. In February, they discovered deep sea coral gardens and coral graveyards in Bremer Canyon Marine Park.

detached coral reef discovery Great Barrier Reef Schmidt Ocean Institute

“We are surprised and elated by what we have found,” said Dr. Beaman. “To not only 3D map the reef in detail, but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible. This has only been made possible by the commitment of Schmidt Ocean Institute to grant ship time to Australia’s scientists.”

The Northern depths of the Great Barrier Reef expedition will continue until November 17 as part of Schmidt Ocean Institute’s expansive 12-month Australia voyage. The maps created will be available through AusSeabed, a national Australian seabed mapping program, and will also contribute to the Nippon Foundation GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project.

“To find a new half-a-kilometre tall reef in the offshore Cape York area of the well-recognised Great Barrier Reef shows how mysterious the world is just beyond our coastline,” said Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “This powerful combination of mapping data and underwater imagery will be used to understand this new reef and its role within the incredible Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.”

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