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Great Barrier beast: Massive coral has been growing on Reef for 400 years

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A massive coral-head formation that predates European explorations and settlement in Australia has been found on the Great Barrier Reef.

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In a hemispherical shape, the coral measures 5.3 metres tall and 10.4 metres wide, making it 2.4 metres wider than any other coral measured on the Reef.

Named Muga dhambi (Big coral) by the Manbarra people, the traditional custodians of the Palm Islands, the coral was discovered off the coast of Goolboodi (Orpheus Island), part of the Palm Island group in north Queensland.

James Cook University Adjunct Associate Professor Adam Smith says the coral, known by its scientific name Porites sp, was discovered by scientists and community members participating in a marine citizen science course.

“Muga dhambi may have survived up to 80 major cyclones, numerous coral bleaching events and centuries of exposure to invasive species, low tides and human activity,” he said.

“Despite this, it’s in very good health with 70% consisting of live coral.

“Using calculations based on rock coral growth rates and annual sea surface temperatures, we think it’s between 421 and 438 years old.”

Details of the coral are described in the journal Scientific Reports, and Smith says the team of scientists and authors who contributed to the paper ranged from 17 years of age to 76.

“Spending time monitoring, exploring and sharing knowledge about the reefs of Goolboodi island with the Reef Ecologic team was an invaluable experience that excites me for a future in the marine science world,” Smith said.

The authors recommend closely monitoring the rare coral due to the ongoing threat of climate change, declining water quality and overfishing in on the Reef.

Smith added he was proud of the collaborative effort with traditional owners to make this scientific discovery.

“I recognise that the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef is climate change and I am pleased to report that the greenhouse gas emissions of this research were measured and offset as part of our carbon positive policy,” he said.

“Great science is about knowledge and sustainability of the planet.”

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