The new coral reef was discovered in Australia's Great Barrier Reef

By Rachel DeSantis
October 27, 2020 04:40 PM
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Coral reef
| Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

A group of Australian scientists exploring the Great Barrier Reef have discovered an enormous new coral reef that stretches taller than some of the world’s largest buildings.

The detached reef — the first one discovered in over 120 years — is more than 1,600 feet high, meaning it towers over the Empire State Building in New York City, Sydney’s Sydney Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, according to the Schmidt Ocean Institute.

The massive discovery was made on Oct. 20 by scientists mapping the underwater seafloor of the northern Great Barrier Reef aboard the Institute’s research vessel Falkor, which is currently on a year-long exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia.

Five days later, they conducted an exploratory, live-streamed dive with SuBastian, the Institute’s underwater robot.

Dr. Robin Beaman of James Cook University led the expedition, and said in a press release that the group was “surprised and elated” by the discovery.

“To not only 3D map the reef in detail, but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible,” he said. “This has only been made possible by the commitment of Schmidt Ocean Institute to grant ship time to Australia’s scientists.”

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The release described the reef as “blade-like,” and said it was a little less than a mile wide, with it sitting just 131 feet below sea level at its most shallow depth.

It joins seven other tall, detached reefs in the area, which has been mapped since the late 1800s. Among those is the reef at Raine Island, which the release called “the world’s most important green sea turtle nesting area.”

“This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our Ocean,” Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, said in a statement. “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.”

In addition to the reef, the Institute has discovered a variety of other things this year, including the longest recorded sea creature, a 148-foot siphonophore.

The Great Barrier Reef, which is comprised of more than 3,000 individual reef systems, is the world’s largest coral reef system, but is facing increasing threats to its existence thanks to climate change.

Among those threats are rising water temperatures, poorer water quality from sediment run-off and pollution, more severe cyclones and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, according to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.