Researchers diving in the sparkling waters just off the Palm Islands in Australia have discovered a giant coral community. This ancient towering giant predates the settlement of Europeans on the mainland. This old giant coral reef is being considered the widest living coral in the Great Barrier Reef at an imposing 34.1 feet (10.4 meters) across.
The traditional local custodians, the Manbarra people have named it the Muga dhambi (Giant Coral). This splendid thriving mass of complex latticed calcium carbonate constitutes a consolidated ecology of coral polyps, created over numerous generations.
Adam Smith, a marine ecologist at the James Cook University, says that such gigantic Porites coral, a stony variant, like the one discovered at Goolboodi Island (Orpheus Island), is resilient and very rare.
He and his team found that the giant coral has faced invasive species, coral bleaching, severe cyclones, low tides, plus the ravages of human activity for 400 years and still survived.
The giant coral is 17.39 feet (5.3 meters) tall and 7.87 feet (2.4 meters) wider than any other known coral.
The flanks of the huge coral are home to the creators and the zooxanthellae, which live in symbiosis with the algae. But the upper part of it is devoid of living corals.
The top is instead inhabited by the boring sponge (Cliona virides), other algae, and other types of corals (Montipora and Acropora species). Their colonies have been clearly demarcated across the skeletal surface of the giant coral.
These sponges inhabit the turbulent face of the coral. There they are exposed to strong currents which facilitate the filtering of water for the bacteria and other microbes to feed.
Researchers warned that the advances made by the sponge will in all likelihood compromise the size of the colony and its health.
Coral tissue is vulnerable to sunlight and warm water; to which they are exposed at low tides. Sections of them may die out without harming the entire colony.
The Giant Corals Predate The Arrival Of James Cook
The giant coral was spawned going back 421 to 438 years into the past. That would predate the coming of James Cook. It is even before Charles Darwin was born, or the coining of the word ‘biology,’ or even the founding of the US.
Adam Smith says that the giant coral was a significant member of the local ecosystem. Similar to a large apartment, the giant coral attracts various species. They include other corals, different species of fish, and other animals who use them to procure food and shelter. It creates a unique biosphere of its own.
The giant coral was known to local researchers and fishermen but had never been thoroughly researched before. Smith compares it to a redwood tree growing in a botanical garden. There have been over 600 scientific research papers on his, corals, and the seaweed in the area.
His university even has a research station on Orpheus Island. But somehow over the last 2 to 3 decades, it has escaped the close attention of researchers. No papers were written on the huge corals, nor pictures take or any research done.
Kailash Cook, aged 17, and who helped measure the giant coral has been named one of the co-authors. There is also the name of the ‘godfather of coral’ Dr. Charlie Veron, aged 76. He was instrumental in identifying the giant coral.
The authors have appealed for the monitoring of the giant coral. They said that the Giant Barrier Reef, of which the giant coral is a part, needed immediate protection from the decline in water quality, climate change, coastal encroachment, and overfishing.
Smith says that while the coral reefs, including the giant coral, could live for a thousand years, they normally die out after 450-460 years in the Great Barrier Reef.
The Muga Dhambi has managed to survive so long despite the frequent cyclones, and the bleaching that has affected the coral in the area. It has been resilient enough to survive for so long because it had either been lucky or tough, he says.