Scientists Discover Coral Reef Taller Than the Empire State Building

The unexpected discovery is the tallest structure found in the Great Barrier Reef in 120 years.
​Image: Schmidt Ocean Institute (left), Gary Hershorn via Getty Images (right).
Image: Schmidt Ocean Institute (left), Gary Hershorn via Getty Images (right).  

Marine scientists have discovered a coral tower in Australia's Great Barrier Reef that stands more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) tall, exceeding the height of the Empire State Building. It’s the first time in 120 years that a reef so large has been found in this famous ocean region, according to scientists at Schmidt Ocean Institute, who spotted and filmed the giant living structure.

First things first: Yes, there is submarine footage of the reef—more than four entrancing hours of it—which was captured by a team of scientists led by Robin Beaman from James Cook University. 


And as if this news wasn’t delightful enough, the vehicles used to find and explore the new reef appear to be named after characters from The Neverending Story. Beaman and her colleagues spotted the structure while onboard research vessel Falkor, and the team remotely operated a camera-carrying dive vehicle called SuBastian.

The reef extends from its mile-long base on the seafloor to about 40 meters below the ocean surface. Beaman and her colleagues stumbled across it as part of a broader 12-month expedition on R/V Falkor to map underwater habitats along Australia’s coasts. One of the goals of the project is to understand the origin and evolution of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system, which is critically threatened by climate change.

“This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our Ocean,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute, in a statement

“Thanks to new technologies that work as our eyes, ears and hands in the deep ocean, we have the capacity to explore like never before,” she added. “New oceanscapes are opening to us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us.”