Another mystery of the oceans uncovered! A team of Australian scientists located a massive blade-shaped reef that rivals the size of a skyscraper.

By Rachel Chang
October 27, 2020
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Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

With oceans covering more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, there are still corners of the underwater world that have yet to be uncovered. Case in point: the discovery last week of an Australian coral reef so large that it’s taller than the Empire State Building.

In a recent press release, the Schmidt Ocean Institute announced that its research vessel Falkor, which is currently on a yearlong mission of the oceans surrounding Australia, located a more than 1,640-foot-tall detached coral reef in the Great Barrier Reef. Even with all the advances in technology over the last century, this marked the first discovery of its kind in 120 years.

The newly discovered 500 meter tall detached reef.
| Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Shaped like a blade, the base of the reef measures about a mile wide, rising to grand height, topping notable structures like the 1,450-foot-tall Willis Tower and 1,454-foot-tall Empire State Building. Its top sits just 130 feet below the sea surface.

The reef was first found on Oct. 20 by a team led by James Cook University’s Dr. Robin Beaman, and then confirmed via an Oct. 25 dive — which was livestreamed — using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) named SuBastian. (Both the SuBastian and Falkor are named after characters from the German novel-turned-film "The Neverending Story.") 

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

The detached reefs join seven other known ones in the area, which have been mapped since the 1800s, the best known being the green turtle nesting area of Raine Island.

“This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,” Schmidt Ocean Institute cofounder Wendy Schmidt said in the release. “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.”

The massive coral reef is just one of the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s findings this year. They also found deep-sea coral gardens and graveyards in Bremer Canyon Marine Park in January, the longest recorded sea creature — a 147-foot-long siphonophore — in the Ningaloo Canyon in April, and a rare Coral Sea scorpionfish in August.

While the Great Barrier Reef has been drawing visitors with the Museum of Underwater Art opening in August, it’s also one of the areas most noted for the effects of climate change, as the natural wonder has lost half its coral since the 1990s.