a0052-000578

Photo by: Grant Faint

Grant Faint

A 400-Year-Old Coral Offers Hope for the Great Barrier Reef

An incredibly resilient species of coral has weathered hundreds of years of coral bleaching and survived. What can this teach scientists about conservation?

September 22, 2021

At 34 feet wide, this coral is roughly the size of a carousel. Nicknamed Muga dhambi, or “big coral” by the indigenous Manbarra people, it stands over 16 feet tall, making Muga dhambi the sixth tallest coral in the Great Barrier Reef.

Muga dhambi is a type of reef-building Porite, a genus of stony coral. Its incredible width is a result of its hard skeleton, which is made of calcium carbonate from the surrounding seawater.

Snorkelers discovered this record-breaking coral off the coast of Goolboodi Island in Northeast Australia.

Based on the coral’s size and growth rate, scientists have calculated it to be about 421-438 years old. Meaning this ancient coral has survived as many as 80 cyclones and weathered 99 coral bleaching events. It has persisted through centuries of low tides and outlived many invasive species.

“Knowing that these things [like Muga dhambi] exist, and have persisted for a long time, helps to provide a renewed sense of hope for the future,” said marine scientist Nathan Cook.

Ancient colonies like the Muga dhambi offer scientists a rare opportunity to learn more about reef conditions as these massive corals continue to grow.

The colony is in very good health with 70% of it consisting of live coral. Even as more coral cover is lost due to climate change, there is hope that resilient species like Muga dhambi will continue to survive.

"There are many unexplored corners of the Great Barrier Reef," Cook said. "It is possible there are larger coral colonies waiting to be documented by intrepid citizen scientists."

Next Up

Scientists Are Resurrecting the Tasmanian Tiger from Extinction

Colossal Biosciences has announced it has begun work on the de-extinction of the thylacine, an iconic Australian marsupial eradicated by human hunting in 1936. Learn how they plan to do it in an exclusive interview with marsupial evolutionary biologist Andrew Pask Ph.D. and Colossal Co-Founder Ben Lamm.

Drone Images of Coastal Kelp Show Recovery is Possible

California’s coastal kelp forests could be making a welcome revival. Drone images show seaweed beds recovering along the north coast in Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

Melting Glaciers Could Flood Society with Problems

Earth’s glaciers are both a precious resource and a fragile ecosystem that is disappearing quickly due to global warming. Scientists warn that glaciers will vanish from the mainland US within decades. And their rapid melting is dangerous to society and the natural systems we rely on.

How a Lizard Loses Its Tail (and More Importantly, Keeps it Attached)

Thanks to a complex internal structure, lizards can shed a tail in a pinch… yet keep their tails attached when they need them.

Strange Flat-Faced Dinosaur Fossil is Discovered in Egypt

Scientists in Egypt have uncovered an odd-looking dinosaur with smaller teeth, stumpy arms, and a squashed face similar to a bulldog.

Why You Can’t Escape a Mosquito

Hiding the scent of human blood from mosquitoes is harder than scientists originally thought.

Blind Dogs Can Still Play Fetch. A Newfound Nose-to-Brain Connection Explains Why.

Why are dogs such great sniffers? A new canine connection shows powerful brain links between dogs’ sense of smell and sight.

Canadian Museum Rediscovers a New Ancient Shark Species - The First of its Kind

The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre has recently “rediscovered” an ancient shark skeleton that has been sitting in the museum’s collection for nearly 50 years. Could this shark be a part of a newly discovered ancient shark species?

There's a Biodiversity Crisis--Here's What You Need to Know

Despite the world slowing down during the pandemic and studies hailing the slowdown of pollution and positive benefits on the environment, there’s one thing that continued full throttle: the globe’s biodiversity crisis.

How to Clean a River from the Sky

Multispectral cameras keep a watch on the polluted Ganges.