An astonishingly large coral – the widest ever identified in the Great Barrier Reef – has been discovered off the coast of Goolboodi, one of the Palm Islands in Queensland, Australia.
Aptly named Muga dhambi (Big coral), it is also the sixth tallest Porites coral measured in the Great Barrier Reef. The discovery is reported in the journal Scientific Reports.
At 10.4 meters (34 feet) wide and 5.3 meters (17 feet) tall, the hemispherical giant is at least 2.4 meters wider than the next widest coral measured in the Reef. It’s a fierce competitor in the “chonkiest coral in the Pacific” contest too; one massive coral located in American Samoa measured a whopping 17 meters (56 feet) by 12 meters (39 feet), and another off Sesoko Island, Japan was 11 meters (36 feet) in diameter.
As well as being exceptionally large, Muga dhambi is also exceptionally healthy, with over 70 percent live coral cover and only minor coverage by sponges, live coral rock, and macroalgae. The study reports no evidence of disease or bleaching, either. Not bad considering its age is estimated to be between 421 and 438 years. At more than four centuries old, this predates European colonization of Australia and makes it one of the oldest corals on the Great Barrier Reef to be recorded.
During those four centuries or so, the colossal coral hasn’t had the easiest ride. The authors calculate that M. dhambi will have experienced almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones in its time, as well as declining water quality.
“The large Porites coral at Goolboodi ... Island is unusually rare and resilient,” the study authors write. “It has survived coral bleaching, invasive species, cyclones, severely low tides, and human activities for almost 500 years.”
Who knows what the next 500 years will bring for Muga dhambi, but if the fate of other corals in the Great Barrier Reef is anything to go by, it’s not looking great. Last year, scientists predicted that almost all coral reef habitats could be gone by the end of the century, thanks to ocean acidification, human activities such as overfishing, coastal development, and, of course, climate change.
The authors of the current study hope that in drawing attention to the rare giant they can inspire future efforts to save it, and other coral reefs like it. They write that they provide the necessary information for it to be “monitored, appreciated, potentially restored and hopefully inspire future generations to care more for our reefs and culture.”