A Massive Reef System Discovered Just Behind The Great Barrier Reef

First Posted: Aug 30, 2016 05:56 AM EDT

The Australian researchers discovered a vast reef system hidden behind the Great Barrier Reef. It spans to more than 6,000 square kilometers (2,316 square miles)and has unusual donut-shaped circular mounds, with each 200-300 meters across and up to 10 meters deep.

The study was printed in Coral Reefs. The researchers have speculated of this huge reef for more than 30 years. On the other hand, they haven't had the chance to investigate it properly. Robin Beaman from James Cook University said that they have known about these geological structures in the northern Great Barrier Reef since the 1970s and 80s, but never before has the true nature of their shape, size and vast scale been revealed.

Finally, the team mapped the shape, size and vast scale of the deep reef using the LiDAR remote sensing technology, which is a surveying technology that uses lasers to detect the distance of hidden formations. Mardi McNeil from the Queensland University of Technology said that they have now mapped over 6,000 square kilometers. She further said that's three times the previously estimated size, spanning from the Torres Strait to just north of Port Douglas. "They clearly form a significant inter-reef habitat which covers an area greater than the adjacent coral reefs."

The scientists found that the newly discovered reef with doughnut-shaped mounds is made from Halimeda. This is a common type of green algae that shape small limestone flakes when they die. It is dubbed as cactus algae because it looks like the Australian prickly pear and grows so fast, according to Science Alert. The formations are also known as bioherms.

Beaman said that they are now going to figure out what kinds of life are sustained by these vast bioherms. The researchers are hoping for a better fate of this new reef system as 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has already been damaged.

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