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

Dolphin Doctors Appointments: The Future of 3D Scanning Marine Mammals

Drones, satellite tracking, and underwater acoustic devices have made a huge difference in understanding more about the lives of whales and dolphins. Now researchers are turning to 3D laser scanning to get more accurate data about their size, shape, and general health.

Cutting Methane is Quickest Way to Limit Global Warming Before 2030

President Joe Biden has announced plans to tackle climate change by reducing emissions of the greenhouse gas methane by at least 30% by 2030. His pledge, agreed with the European Union, aims to raise ambitions for world leaders to combat global warming ahead of the critical COP26 climate summit in November.

How to Clean a River from the Sky

Multispectral cameras keep a watch on the polluted Ganges.

Volcanology: The Study of Volcanic Activity and Predicting Eruptions

The study of volcanoes and collecting data such as seismic activity, temperature, and chemical changes can help predict eruptions and save lives in the process.

How a Whale Song is Helping Scientists Map the Seafloor

The echoes of fin whale vocalizations are so powerful they can penetrate volcanic rock and sediment on the ocean floor. Scientists are using these seismic waves to learn more about the deep sea.

Meet the First Cloned Endangered Animal in North America

This black-footed ferret is not only cute, she is beyond special. Meet Elizabeth Ann, the first endangered animal to be cloned in North America.

Global Meltdown: Scientists Race to Gather Crucial Climate Data from Glaciers

Glaciers store a vast amount of important climate data within their frozen rivers of snow and ice. But many of the world’’s 220,000 glaciers are under threat from global warming and are melting at an accelerating rate. Now scientists are in a race to gather long-frozen records of Earth’s past climate from the ice.

Tree Planting and Reforestation Will Help Limit Global Warming

Planting new trees is one of the most effective ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and limit global warming.

Here's the Real Reason Why Australia Has Bubblegum Pink Lakes

After years of suspecting salt or microalgae as the cause of Lake Hillier's pink waters, DNA analysis helped science discover the more likely reason. Read more at Discovery.com.

Storm Dennis, When 2 Become 1 Menacing Bomb Cyclone

What is a bomb cyclone? And what’s up with Storm Dennis being such a menace in the UK?