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Environment

Australian scientists say most diverse coral site ever seen on Great Barrier Reef discovered

  • In a space no longer than 500 metres, the researchers say they recorded at least 195 different species of corals on a research expedition last month
PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 December, 2018, 11:09am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 December, 2018, 10:53pm

A team of researchers says it has discovered the most diverse coral site ever recorded on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef Legacy, a non-profit organisation that conducts research trips on the reef, and scientist Charlie Veron, known as the godfather of coral, have identified the site on the outer reef.

In a space no longer than 500 metres, the researchers say they recorded at least 195 different species of corals on a research expedition last month.

The group first stumbled upon the site on a voyage last year, and returned in November to conduct studies.

I’ve spent eight years working on the Great Barrier Reef in just about every nook and cranny,” Veron said. “I thought there would be nothing new for me on the Great Barrier Reef.”

Veron returned with the group to record the corals and will write a paper on the site. He said it was located in a general area that had been affected by widespread coral bleaching and coral mortality and it would take further work to assess why this particular spot had survived so far.

It also appeared to have been unaffected by cyclones and other factors such as crown of thorns that threaten coral health.

But he said it was likely just the result of luck, a combination of its location, currents and shielding from clouds. “It’s probably got as near as can be to an ideal physical environment,” Veron said.

If its health continues, the researchers say the site could be used for future coral studies and collection.

Dean Miller, the Great Barrier Reef Legacy science and media director and leader of the expedition, said there was still a danger that high temperatures this summer could damage the site.

The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) has forecast mass bleaching and coral death could be likely along the entire Great Barrier Reef this summer.

Scientists have warned that the recent record-breaking heatwave in Queensland could further increase above-average water temperatures on the reef and heighten the risk of bleaching.

Researchers along the reef have already started setting out on boats to begin coral monitoring for the summer.

“We just don’t know where and how the bleaching intensity is going to affect different parts of the reef,” Miller said.

“Given it appears to have escaped the last two mass bleaching events we have high hopes it will be OK.”