SYDNEY – A group of scientists has discovered a 500-meter-high (1,640 feet) coral, taller than the Empire State Building skyscraper in New York, on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s northeastern coast.
“The base of the blade-like reef is 1.5 kilometers wide, then rises 500 meters to its shallowest depth of only 40 meters below the sea surface,” Tom Bridge, a Principal Investigator on the expedition who is based at the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said in a statement.
The discovery of this gigantic detached coral off the coast of Cape York is the first of its kind in more than a century, according to the statement issued by the university.
“This newly discovered detached reef adds to the seven other tall detached reefs in the area–all otherwise mapped in the late 1800s,” added Bridge, who is also Senior Curator of Corals at the Queensland Museum.
The collection includes the reef at Raine Island, a massive coral about 620 kilometers off the coast of the Australian city of Cairns and which is considered the world’s most important green sea turtle nesting area.
The leader of the expedition, James Cook University scientist Rob Beaman, said that the discovery was both surprising and incredible as it was made using Schmidt Ocean Institute’s underwater robot SuBastian, which enabled it to be recorded and live-streamed.
“To not only map the reef in 3D detail, but to also see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible,” Beaman said.
Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute, said that there are still many unknown structures and species within the oceans waiting to be discovered.
“The state of our knowledge about what’s in the ocean has long been so limited,” Schmidt 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.”
“Combining mapping data and underwater imagery helps understand more about this newly discovered reef and its role within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area,” she added.