Massive Underwater Coral 'Skyscraper' in Australia's Great Barrier Reef is Taller Than NY's Empire State Building

Published October 27th, 2020 - 07:31 GMT
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
It is the first new detached coral reef to be discovered in the last 120 years.

A skyscraper-esque spire of detached coral discovered in Australia's Great Barrier Reef stands taller than the Empire State Building at 1,640 feet (500 metres) high.

Researchers from the US and Australia mapped out the blade-like coral mount — the first to be discovered in some 120 years — off the coast of Cape York on October 20.

Towering above the surrounding seafloor, the spire grew separately to the larger, plateaux-like mass of coral reef to its west.

The reef's height dwarfs both that of France's Eiffel Tower and The Shard — Britain's tallest building — which stand at 1,063 and 1,016 feet (324 and 310 m), respectively. 

Reefs form from the growth of successive generations of corals — first attached to rocks on the seafloor and later to the skeletons of their predecessors.

They grow up until they reach the ideal depth beneath the sea surface — and over thousands of years can form vast structures as they adapt to changing sea levels.

The scientists — who are working onboard the research vessel 'Falkor' — are presently undertaking a 12-month exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia.

'We are surprised and elated by what we have found,' said paper author and Dr Robin Beaman of the James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.

At its base, the blade-like reef is some 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometres) in width — and reaches up to just 131 feet below the sea surface.

It joins the seven other tall detached reefs in the area — most of which were mapped in the late 1800s. These include the reef at Raine Island — the world's most important green sea turtle nesting area.

Five days after making their discovered, the team dispatched SuBastian — the Schmidt Ocean Institute's underwater robot — on a dive to explore the new reef.

High-resolution footage from this expedition was live-streamed online.

'To not only 3D map the reef in detail — but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian — is incredible,' Dr Beaman added.


The revelation of the new coral reef adds to a year of underwater discoveries by Schmidt Ocean Institute.

In April, researchers discovered the longest recorded sea creature — a 148 feet (45 metres) -long siphonophore, a creature related to the jellyfish, in Ningaloo Canyon — as well as 30 new species.

In August, five previously undescribed species of black coral and sponges were uncovered by the team — who also recorded Australia's first observation of rare scorpionfish in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks.

Back in February, their year started with the discovery of deep sea coral gardens and graveyards in Bremer Canyon Marine Park.

'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 Schmidt Ocean Institute executive director Jyotika Virmani.

'[A] 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.'

The maps created by the researchers on their voyages will be available through AusSeabed, a national Australian seabed mapping program, and will also contribute to the Nippon Foundation's GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project.

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

'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,' she added.

'New oceanscapes are opening to us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us.' 

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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