New 500m tall coral reef discovered in Great Barrier Reef

Australian scientists on-board the Schmidt Ocean Institute research vessel Falkor, have discovered a massive detached reef in the Great Barrier Reef. It highlights that there is still so much to be discovered in our oceans, even in one of the most well documented regions on Earth.

A 3D computer generated map of the new skyscraper-sized coral reef

For the first time in over 120 years, a huge new detached coral reef has been found within the Great Barrier Reef system (GBR) in Australia. The newly discovered reef is over 500m tall, making it taller than the Empire State Building and the Shard. The enormous structure was accidentally stumbled upon by researchers from James Cook University, whilst mapping the seafloor in the region. Lead scientist Dr Robin Beaman descried the discovery as ‘unexpected’ but ‘incredible’. It is just the latest of a string of record-breaking discoveries made on-board the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s state of the art research vessel Falkor, highlighting the need for continued exploration of the marine world.

The Schmidt Ocean Institute research vessel Falkor

The new reef, which as of yet remains unnamed, was discovered by the James Cook researchers on 20th October whilst mapping the seafloor in the Northern region of the GBR. It is described as a blade-like structure with a 1.5km-wide base rising 500m to a peak of around 40m below the surface. The entire structure is detached from the main GBR complex and because if its depth it, is composed of different types of corals from the more shallower tropical reefs in the area, which in turn support an alternative yet equally important community of organisms. It is the eighth such detached reef that has been discovered in the GBR, similar in size to the reef at the green turtle nesting site of Raine Island, but unlike the other structures it has remained a mystery for over 120 years.

Raine Island is one of the best studied examples of a detached reef in the GBR system

On the 25th October the researchers, who were on-board the Schmidt Ocean research vessel Falkor, returned to the reef to 3D map the site. This was carried out by the Falkor’s advanced ROV (remotely operated vehicle) SuBastien, which also live streamed the four hour dive direct to the Schmidt ocean YoutTube channel. “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”, explained Schmidt Ocean executive director Dr Jyotika Virmani, in a recent press release. She went on to say that finding such a large unknown structure in one of the world’s most surveyed marine environments in the world – “shows how mysterious the world is just beyond our coastline”.

Researchers on the Falkor deplot the ROV SuBastien for a dive

The discovery of this new coral reef is just the latest in a long list made by the Falkor this year, as it surveyed the GBR and wider Australian ocean in great detail. In April scientists exploring the depths of Nigaloo Canyon discovered the world’s longest marine creature, a 45m long siphonophore, along with 30 new species. It has also been used to map deep sea coral gardens in Bremer Canyon Marine Park and made the first recordings of rare scorpionfish in Australian waters. During the coronavirus pandemic it even made history by undertaking the first ever completely remote research expedition. All of which highlights the incredible insight available to researchers today through the use of state of the art technology. It also remind us that to keep making these incredible discoveries and learn more about our amazing planet we must continue to explore our oceans as much as we can.


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