Scientists had an idea that there was a much larger reef behind the Great Barrier, but it was the Royal Australian Navy who confirmed the shape, size, and vast scale of the deep reef with bathymetric lidar.
“We’ve now mapped over 6,000 square kilometres. That’s three times the previously estimated size, spanning from the Torres Strait to just north of Port Douglas,” says one of the researchers, Mardi McNeil from Queensland University of Technology.
“They clearly form a significant inter-reef habitat which covers an area greater than the adjacent coral reefs.”
The discovery of this vast, living reef has now got researchers wondering how the effects of climate change and ocean acidification have been felt by these algae populations. Unlike the life on the Great Barrier Reef, which we have decades of history to learn from, we’re just beginning to get to know this ecosystem.
“For instance, what do the 10- to 20-metre-thick sediments of the bioherms tell us about past climate and environmental change on the Great Barrier Reef over this 10,000 year time-scale?” says one of the team, Robin Beaman from James Cook University in Queensland, adding that they’re now going to have to figure out what kinds of life are sustained by these massive bioherms.