Australian scientists find huge new healthy coral reef off northern coast

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian scientists found a detached coral reef on the Great Barrier Reef that exceeds the height of the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, the Schmidt Ocean Institute said this week, the first such discovery in over 100 years.

The “blade like” reef is nearly 500 metres tall and 1.5 kilometres wide, said the institute founded by ex-Google boss Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy. It lies 40 metres below the ocean surface and about six kilometres from the edge of Great Barrier Reef.

A team of scientists from James Cook University, led by Dr. Robin Beaman, were mapping the northern seafloor of the Great Barrier Reef on board the institute’s research vessel Falkor, when they found the reef on Oct. 20.

“We are surprised and elated by what we have found,” said Beaman.

He said it was the first detached reef of that size to be discovered in over 120 years and that it was thriving with a “blizzard of fish” in a healthy ecosystem.

The discovery comes after a study earlier this month found the Great Barrier Reef had lost more than half its coral in the last three decades.

Using the underwater robot known as SuBastian, the scientists filmed their exploration of the new reef, collecting marine samples on the way, which will be archived and placed in the Queensland Museum and the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

“To not only 3D map the reef in detail, but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible,” Beaman added.

Although the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef suffered from bleaching in 2016, Beaman said this detached reef didn’t display any evidence of damage.

Bleaching occurs when the water is too warm, forcing coral to expel living algae and causing it to calcify and turn white.

The Great Barrier Reef runs 2,300 km (1,429 miles) down Australia’s northeast coast spanning an area half the size of Texas. It was world heritage listed in 1981 by UNESCO as the most extensive and spectacular coral reef ecosystem on the planet.

(Reporting by James Redmaynein Sydney; Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

Source Article

Read more

Endangered vaquita remain genetically healthy even in low numbers, new analysis shows

Endangered vaquita remain genetically healthy even in low numbers, new analysis shows
The first vaquita caught as part of a conservation effort in 2017. Credit: Vaquita CPR

The critically endangered vaquita has survived in low numbers in its native Gulf of California for hundreds of thousands of years, a new genetic analysis has found. The study found little sign of inbreeding or other risks often associated with small populations.


Gillnet fisheries have entangled and killed many vaquitas in recent years and scientists believe that fewer than 20 of the small porpoises survive today. The new analysis demonstrates that the species’ small numbers do not doom it to extinction, however. Vaquitas have long survived and even thrived without falling into an “extinction vortex,” the new study showed. That’s a scenario in which their limited genetic diversity makes it impossible to recover.

“The species, even now, is probably perfectly capable of surviving,” said Phil Morin, research geneticist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new study published this week in Molecular Ecology Resources. “We can now see that genetic factors are not its downfall. There’s a very good chance it could recover fully if we can get the nets out of the water.”

Small but Stable Populations

An increasing number of species in addition to the vaquita have maintained small but stable populations for long periods without suffering from inbreeding depression. Other species include the narwhal, mountain gorilla, and native foxes in California’s Channel Islands. Long periods of small population sizes may have given them time to purge harmful mutations that might otherwise jeopardize the health of their populations.

“It’s appearing to be more common than we thought that species can do just fine at low numbers over long periods,” said Morin, who credited the vaquita findings to genetic experts around the world who contributed to the research.

The idea that vaquitas could sustain themselves in low numbers is not new. Some scientists suspected that more than 20 years ago. Now advanced genetic tools that have emerged with the rapidly increasing power of new computer technology helped them prove the point.

“They’ve survived like this for at least 250,000 years,” said Barbara Taylor, research scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “Knowing that gives us a lot more confidence that, in the immediate future, genetic issues are the least of our concerns.”

Endangered vaquita remain genetically healthy even in low numbers, new analysis shows
A vaquita and her calf surface in the Gulf of California. Credit: Paula Olson

Sequencing the Vaquita Genome

The new analysis examined living tissue from a vaquita captured as part of a last-ditch international 2017 effort to save the fast-disappearing species. The female vaquita tragically died, but its living cells revealed the most complete and high-quality genome sequence of any dolphin, porpoise, or whale to date, generated in collaboration with the Vertebrate Genomes Project. Only in recent years have advances in sequencing technologies and high-powered computers made such detailed reconstruction possible.

While the vaquita genome is not diverse, the animals are healthy. The most recent field effort in fall 2019 spotted about nine individuals, including three

Read more