At a time when Australia's tourism industry is in desperate need of good news, scientists across the Tasman have made a remarkable underwater discovery.

The jewel in Queensland's crown has long been the Great Barrier Reef, attracting nearly two million visitors, snorkellers and scuba divers around the world each year.

However climate change, warmer ocean temperatures and subsequent mass coral bleaching have done to the barrier reef what the bushfires have done to the land - leaving it scorched.

But scientists studying the reef have announced they've discovered dozens of new coral species.


The researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, James Cook University and University of Technology Sydney took a 21-day diving expedition ranging from the Capricorn Bunkers off Gladstone to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait last month.

What they found was astonishing.

"On almost every dive we were finding new species of corals that have never before been accurately described and classified," said Dr Francesca Benzoni, Associate Professor of Marine Science at KAUST.

"The new species we found means that the biodiversity of some groups is up to three times higher than we had thought."

Australia's Great barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the world. Photo / F.J. Jiménez, Getty Images
Australia's Great barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the world. Photo / F.J. Jiménez, Getty Images

The team also discovered a number of species not previously seen on the reef, resulting in a wealth of new material for scientific study.

They also performed the first survey of black corals on the reef, a species typically found in deeper, darker waters.

Professor Andrew Baird from James Cook University's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies believed the findings would help with the management and conservation of the reef.

"Understanding the diversity of species on the reef underpins virtually every area of research and conservation," he said.

The Great Barrier Reef received world heritage status in 1981, for its "outstanding universal value."

It contains the world's largest collection of coral reefs and is home to over 1500 species of fish.

But, like so many of the world's finest coral reef ecosystems, the Queensland treasure trove faces ongoing threats from extreme weather events, coastal developments, illegal fishing activity and worsening water quality due to run-off from the land.

Professor Baird acknowledged the need for more experts who can study these new coral species, and more funding to protect the reef.

"We need more trained taxonomists—biologists who can group organisms into categories—and more funds to reassess the taxonomy of common groups found on the reef, including hard, soft and black corals," he said.

"Australia is the custodian of the world's largest coral reef system and as a World Heritage-listed site, it is the nation's obligation to manage it well."