Coral reefs discovered in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria

20 April 2005

Geoscience Australia scientists announce the discovery of a previously unidentified major coral reef province in the southern part of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The three-week marine science survey, jointly funded by Geoscience Australia and the National Oceans Office (Department of Environment and Heritage), and with support from the CSIRO, will provide valuable information needed by environmental and marine resource managers.

"This discovery makes the Gulf of Carpentaria an important modern coral reef region of Australia, encompassing as many as 50 small coral patch reefs, 1 to 10 km in diameter, plus an elongate platform coral reef that is around 100 km in length extending westwards from Mornington Island," said voyage leader Dr Peter Harris. "The thickness and wide distribution of the reefs point to a long history of reef growth extending possibly over the past 100,000 years or more."

"The first hint of the reefs' existence was recognised during a survey carried out two years ago by Geoscience Australia, when three patch reefs, 1 to 10 km across, were discovered northeast of Mornington Island," said Dr Harris.

"Information on the distribution of coral reefs in the Gulf will assist the Department of Environment and Heritage in developing the Northern Regional Marine Plan along with a series of marine protected areas for northern Australia that will be representative of the different marine habitats in the region," said Dr Harris.

Run in conjunction with the Department of Environment and Heritage and CSIRO Marine Research, the $900,000 survey led by Geoscience Australia was the second leg of an 80 day marine science voyage being conducted in northern Australian marine waters on board the Australian Government's National Facility ocean research vessel, the Southern Surveyor. The survey used a sophisticated sonar seabed mapping system and an underwater corer to investigate the reefs. This research forms a critical part of Geoscience Australia's Seabed Mapping and Characterisation Project.

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