Massive 400-year-old coral is widest ever found in Great Barrier Reef

You’ve heard of chonky cats, but how about chonky coral? Researchers have measured a piece of coral that’s the “chonkiest” yet discovered in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The Porites (a genus of coral) specimen is located in the Palm Islands in Queensland, Australia. The Indigenous Manbarra people, traditional custodians of the area, named it Muga dhambi (big coral). “It is the widest and sixth tallest coral measured in the Great Barrier Reef,” according to a statement Thursday by Springer Nature, publisher of a study on the coral in the journal Scientific Reports. 

The study, led by marine scientist Adam Smith of James Cook University, describes the coral as “exceptionally large” and estimates the age at 421 to 438 years old. The coral measures 17.4 feet (5.3 meters) tall and 34 feet (10.4 meters) wide, eclipsing the next-widest coral measured in the Great Barrier Reef by 7.9 feet (2.4 meters).

Coral can create entire underwater metropolises. Last year, scientists with Schmidt Ocean announced the discovery of a coral reef taller than the Empire State Building. The Great Barrier Reef is a massive system of coral reefs that covers an area of about 133,000 square miles (344,000 square kilometers). 

The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from rising ocean temperatures spurred by the human-caused climate crisis. Parts of the reef have died and researchers have been working on ways to save it from destruction and help the coral recover. Scientists are studying heat-resistant coral and looking at ways to curb explosions of predatory starfish.

Muga dhambi is in very good health with 70% of it consisting of live coral. “The large Porites coral at Goolboodi (Orpheus) Island is unusually rare and resilient,” the study said. “It has survived coral bleaching, invasive species, cyclones, severely low tides and human activities for almost 500 years.”

The researchers hope the big coral will be monitored and that it will “inspire future generations to care more for our reefs and culture.”