Enormous coral reef, larger than the Empire State Building discovered at the Great Barrier Reef.

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On Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, a huge, free-standing coral reef over 1,600 feet high was discovered – the first to be found in over 120 years.

The reef was discovered on October 20 during an underwater mapping expedition of the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef seabed. After the first dive, researchers from the Schmidt Ocean Institute conducted another expedition to this site to confirm the discovery.

“This unexpected discovery confirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, in a statement. “The state of our knowledge about what is in the ocean has long been so limited. Thanks to new technologies that function as our eyes, ears and hands in the deep sea, we are able to explore like never before. New ocean landscapes are opening up for us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us”.

The base of the reef is nearly 5,000 feet wide and 1,600 feet higher than the Empire State Building. Its peak is only 130 feet below the surface of the ocean. The footage of the discovery was streamed live and can be viewed below.

It is one of seven other free-standing reefs in the region that have been discovered since the late 19th century.

At nearly 133,000 square miles, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure in the world. It includes about 3,000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands and 150 offshore mangrove islands. It extends from the northern tip of Queensland down to the city of Bundaberg – about 1,500 miles.

The Great Barrier Reef is currently under threat because climate change is causing extensive damage to the ecosystem through an increase in extreme weather events and coral bleaching. Here, the warm temperatures put the corals under stress, causing the corals to expel algae that turn them white. This does not necessarily kill the algae, but makes them vulnerable. Longer or repeated bleaching processes can kill coral reefs.

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The research vessel used in the mapping project when the new reef was found.
Schmidt Ocean Institute

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Mapping profile of the newly discovered reef.
Schmidt Ocean Institute

A report published in early October by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies showed that the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its corals since the mid-1990s. Andy Dietzel, who led the research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said the results show that the Great Barrier Reef’s ability to recover from extreme events is impaired and that a better understanding of the system is urgently needed.

Schmidt Ocean Institute researchers are currently conducting a one-year exploration project to study the waters off the coast of Australia. The journey to the northern depths, during which the last reef was found, will continue until November 17.

The maps produced during the project are being made available as part of a national seabed mapping program.

“Finding a new reef half a kilometer high in the area of the well known Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cape York shows how mysterious the world is just beyond our coast,” said Jyotika Virmani, managing director of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, in a statement. “This powerful combination of mapping data and underwater imagery will be used to understand this new reef and its role within the incredible World Heritage Site Great Barrier Reef”.

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