The Great Barrier Reef’s secret: A coral older than biology9 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
Both alive and not alive
Imagine living in an apartment complex that lives and breathes with you. It chomps down its food and in turn provides you with food, nutrition and some great company. Even better, the complex isn’t dark dingy or evil but colourful and magnificent to look at. Sounds like something out of a Disney movie? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. This particular house that I am talking about isn’t even human-made. It’s au naturel.
I know you’ve probably caught on by now (the title was a dead giveaway and the puzzle was quite unnecessary). But, I’ll say it anyway:
I am talking about Corals.
For years, no one could figure these pesky creatures out. Were they plants? Were they minerals? Animals? Aliens? How did they have such bright colours? But then microscopes came along and ended the debate once and for all. These creatures are (drumroll please) “flower animals…?” Yup, corals have finally been categorised as Anthozoa or creatures that were both flowers and animals at once.
Before we find out why they’re in the news again, let’s go over a few coral facts:
The large structures that we call corals are actually several connected coral polyps.
Polyps are soft living creatures. Each Polyp has a mouth and a set of tentacles. The sharp tentacles sting the coral’s prey and stun them.
Coral polyps secrete bony, hard skeletons. These skeletons connect with each other to form coral colonies.
The skeletons of corals can sometimes occur on the outside of the creature.
Corals are sessile, which means, like plants, they root themselves firmly in the ground.
However, unlike plants, corals do not make their food. They trap other small sea creatures and consume them.
Coral colonies provide ecosystems to a host of sea creatures. Coral colonies are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.
So, why are these magnificent and fascinating creatures in the news?
Scientists just discovered a 400-year-old, massive Porite coral colony, Muga dhambi, hiding in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef! (Don’t worry! You’ll know what all this means in a moment.)
The Great Barrier Reef
A reef is a ridge of rock, coral or similar relatively stable material lying beneath the surface of a natural body of water. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef. It is attached to Australia’s coast and comprises 900 whole islands of coral networks.
A group of snorkelers were wandering around the Australian seas when they found an unusually large, thriving coral colony off the coast of Goolboodi(Orpheus Island). Soon, scientists discovered that this was a previously unknown coral colony! They found that this massive coral belonged to the Porite Genus (group of corals) but was yet to be named.
After some talks and deliberations, the researchers decided to give this new coral species a local name. They named it “Muga dhambi” — meaning “big coral” in the language of the Manbarra people.
The Manbarra people were the original inhabitants of the Palm Islands before Australia was colonised by the British and made into a single country.
Why do you think scientists decided to give the coral a local name?
Are there any benefits to Muga dhambi’s unique name?
It’s finally time for you to get better acquainted with Muga Dhambi:
Muga dhambi is the widest and the sixth tallest coral colony in the Great Barrier Reef. It is 10.4 metres wide and 5.3 metres tall. For reference, 10 metres is about the size of two giraffes.
Muga dhambi is old, really-really old, but I have to say that it’s in great shape for its age! The ginormous coral colony has been around for between 421 and 438 years. That means that it is older than the creation of the country of Australia itself! In fact, it’s even older than biology itself! And, don’t forget:
Muga dhambi is alive!
The colony has survived centuries of exposure to climate change and various other threats, including eighty major cyclones! In all these years, only 30% of the coral colony has died. That means that 70% of Muga Dhambi is alive and well! When you consider the fact that more than half of the Great Barrier Reef has been lost to climate change, human activity and other threats in recent years, that’s quite a feat.
Watch this video to see what you can do to protect the Great Barrier Reef:
Can saving the coral reefs save us money?
Why is biodiversity important?
With Excerpts From: The Guardian, Hakai Magazine, Live Science, Nature, CNBC TV, National Ocean Service, and Britannica.