Skip to main content
Move the World.
new coral reef

Lead Image © Dean Miller / Schmidt Ocean Institute

Scientists have just discovered a coral reef taller than the Empire State Building near Australia — the first reef discovery of this size in more than a century.

In October, a team from James Cook University led by Robin Beaman was mapping the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef seabed when they discovered a gigantic reef. Using the research vessel Falkor, the Schmidt Ocean Institute did a follow-up expedition to the discovery site to validate that the coral reef was real.

new coral reef

ROV SuBastian returning to R/V Falkor after a dive. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

The team explored the coral reef with the Institute's underwater robot, SuBastian, and discovered that it is 1,600 feet tall and one mile wide. They live-streamed the dive and broadcasted it on the Institute's website and YouTube 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," Jyotika Virmani, executive director of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, said in a statement.

The coral reef discovery is the first in 120 years and one of seven other detached reefs mapped in the last century in this region.

new coral reef

Newly discovered 1,600 feet tall reef is one of seven other tall detached reefs in the northern Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

"We are surprised and elated by what we have found," said Beaman. "To not only 3D map the reef in detail, but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible."

The Great Barrier Reef — the world's most extensive coral reef system — can be seen from outer space. It covers 133,000 square miles off Australia's coast and is made up of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.

Coral reefs are the most diverse fish habitats in the world, home to estimates of up to 8,000 species. They support fisheries and tourism. But many of the world's reefs have been damaged or destroyed. What is left is in decline as climate change accelerates coral bleaching and extreme weather events that stress the ecosystem. Discovering the coral reef gives hope to ocean researchers and underscores that so much remains a mystery about the deep ocean.

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

Banner image: R/V Falkor near Ribbon Reef #5 as ROV SuBastian finds evidence into the origins of the Great Barrier Reef.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Seachange
Coral Reefs Are Dying, but Here’s Why There’s Still Hope
How to Save the Coral Reefs
Watch Now
Seachange
Coral Reefs Are Dying, but Here’s Why There’s Still Hope
Coral reefs are the foundation of ocean life, and yet 50% of them have been lost. Here’s why coral reefs are dying and what one group is doing to stop it.
Watch Now
By Jess Dais

In the face of a changing climate, coral reefs are dying all over the world. Coral reefs make up the foundation of ocean life, and yet 50% of them have been lost in the last three decades. Are coral reefs in danger of disappearing forever? A group of innovative researchers and divers is racing against the clock to save them.

Seachange
Researchers Found a Species of Stony Coral Ready to Withstand Climate Change
Researchers Found a Species of Stony Coral Ready to Withstand Climate Change
Seachange
Researchers Found a Species of Stony Coral Ready to Withstand Climate Change
At current trends, more than 90% of the world’s coral reefs will be massively degraded by 2050. Researchers have found a species of stoney coral that has sparked new efforts for coral reef restoration.

At current trends, more than 90% of the world’s coral reefs will be massively degraded by 2050. Researchers have found a species of stoney coral that has sparked new efforts for coral reef restoration.

Marine Life
3D-Modeling is Changing How We See Deep Sea Corals
Photogrammetry corals
Marine Life
3D-Modeling is Changing How We See Deep Sea Corals
We don’t understand deep sea coral reefs. Photogrammetry is the first step to unlocking their significance.

We don’t understand deep sea coral reefs. Photogrammetry is the first step to unlocking their significance.

Oceans
Researchers Have Never Seen the Deep Sea Like This Before
deep sea creatures
Oceans
Researchers Have Never Seen the Deep Sea Like This Before
Researchers are putting lowlight 4k cameras on remotely operated vehicles to capture videos of deep sea bioluminescence.

Researchers are putting lowlight 4k cameras on remotely operated vehicles to capture videos of deep sea bioluminescence.

Agriculture
This Kenyan Startup Is Turning Locust Swarms into Animal Feed
locust swarms animal feed
Agriculture
This Kenyan Startup Is Turning Locust Swarms into Animal Feed
The locust swarms in East Africa are destroying crops, but The Bug Picture plans to transform them into profits.

The locust swarms in East Africa are destroying crops, but The Bug Picture plans to transform them into profits.

Food
"Doomsday" Seed Vault Now Contains Over 1 Million Samples
seed vault
Food
"Doomsday" Seed Vault Now Contains Over 1 Million Samples
Norway's Svalbard Global Seed Vault, also known as the “Doomsday” Vault, now contains more than one million varieties of seeds from across the globe.

Norway's Svalbard Global Seed Vault, also known as the “Doomsday” Vault, now contains more than one million varieties of seeds from across the globe.

Medicine
RNA Vaccines Could Change Everything in the Fight Against Disease
RNA Vaccines Could Change Everything in the Fight Against Disease
Medicine
RNA Vaccines Could Change Everything in the Fight Against Disease
Traditional methods of vaccination have come up against difficult challenges. They can also be expensive and time-consuming to produce. New RNA vaccines are faster, cheaper, and safer, and show great potential to meet evolving threats.

Traditional methods of vaccination have come up against difficult challenges. They can also be expensive and time-consuming to produce, curtailing efforts to control outbreaks or head off a flu season caused by an unexpected strain. A newer type of vaccines, using RNA, could alleviate these issues. Faster, cheaper, and safer, RNA vaccines show great potential to meet evolving threats.

Dispatches
The Gut Microbiome Affects Brain Structure
The Gut Microbiome Affects Brain Structure
Dispatches
The Gut Microbiome Affects Brain Structure
What happens in your gut in childhood can change how your brain works later in life.

What happens in your gut in childhood can change how your brain works later in life.

Dispatches
A Prosthetic Memory Can Help You Remember
A Prosthetic Memory Can Help You Remember
Dispatches
A Prosthetic Memory Can Help You Remember
Scientists have figured out how to hack the brain's memory.

Scientists have figured out how to hack the brain's memory.