The first ‘detached’ reef discovered in more than 120 years has been found in the waters off Cape York in north Queensland, Australia.
It was discovered on October 20, when researchers came across it during a 12-month mapping project of Australia’s oceans. The reef is located about 80 kilometres east of Cape Grenville, which is about 150 kilometres south of the tip of Cape York.
The discovery is described as a detached reef because it is bedded to the ocean floor, meaning it is not part of the main body of the Great Barrier Reef.
The newfound reef is estimated to be 20 million years old at its deepest part, which lies more than 500 metres below the surface of the water. Standing taller than the Empire State Building’s 443 metres, the reef rises up to 40 metres deep.
Research leader Robin Beaman, from James Cook University (JCU), described the pinnacle of the reef as a ‘thriving coral community.’ It sits among a cluster of seven other detached reefs that were mapped in the 1800s, though the marine ecosystem on the top of the new discovery appeared to be more vibrant than the others.
Dr. Beaman told ABC News:
When we got to the crest of it — it’s only about 300 by 50 metres wide — we found a lot of fish and a healthy shark population too.
Due to the deep water between this reef and the next coral community, the reef acts as an ‘isolated seamount’ and has the potential to evolve unique species.
Following the discovery, researchers put to use an underwater robot known as ‘SuBastian’ to collect samples for identification with its remotely controlled arm.
Dr. Beaman explained:
It’s going to take time for us to work through the imagery and samples we’ve collected before we can say if there are new species [at this reef] or not.
Carlie Wiener, spokesperson at Schmidt Ocean Institute, said the discovery of the reef demonstrates the value of the ongoing project. She noted that Australia does not have a dedicated ‘underwater vehicle’, so a lot of its ocean has not been looked at before.
This is evidence for the importance of exploring our undersea environment, so that we can protect it.
The reef is the latest find to come from the 12-month project, which has also resulted in the discovery of a ‘whole lot of new species’ including the ‘world’s longest recorded sea creature’ – a 45-metre long siphonophore found at Ningaloo canyon off Western Australia.
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