Massive coral pre-dating European exploration and settlement of Australia discovered on GBR

“Using calculations based on rock coral growth rates and annual sea surface temperatures, we think it’s between 421 and 438 years old and predates European exploration and settlement of Australia,” said Dr Smith.

The coral was discovered off the coast of Goolboodi (also known as Orpheus Island), part of the Palm Island Group in Queensland. It has been named Muga dhambi (Big coral) by the Manbarra people, the traditional custodians of the Palm Islands.

“Muga dhambi may have survived up to 80 major cyclones, numerous coral bleaching events and centuries of exposure to invasive species, low tides and human activity. Despite this, it’s in very good health with 70% consisting of live coral,” said Dr Smith.

The coral is described in the journal Scientific Reports this week. Dr Smith said the team of scientists and authors who contributed to the paper ranged from 17 year old Kailash Cook to 76 year old Dr Charlie Veron.

“It’s been an honour to document such a magnificent piece of our Great Barrier Reef. Having a publication with Charlie Veron, the godfather of coral, is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget.

“Spending time monitoring, exploring and sharing knowledge about the reefs of Goolboodi island with the Reef Ecologic team was an invaluable experience that excites me for a future in the marine science world,” said Dr Smith.

The authors recommend monitoring the rare and unusually resilient large coral and said that with increasing threats from the negative impacts of climate change, declining water quality, overfishing and coastal development, restorative activities may be required to assist the recovery of the Great Barrier Reef, including the protection of corals like Muga dhambi.

Dr Smith said he is proud of the scientific discovery of this coral and the collaboration with traditional owners.

“I recognise that the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef is climate change and I am pleased to report that the greenhouse gas emissions of this research were measured and offset as part of our carbon positive policy. Great science is about knowledge and sustainability of the planet.”

‘Field measurements of a massive Porites coral at Goolboodi (Orpheus Island), Great Barrier Reef’, is a scientific paper that is freely available online at:

Adam Smith (Townsville)
M: 0418 726 584

Images available here. Please credit Richard Woodgett. Images are for use with media associated with this specific release only. They are not available for re-use, re-sale or archiving.

From at least 40,000 BC – now: Indigenous Australians care for land and sea country
20,000-6,000BC Sea level rise
6000BC Age of the Great Barrier Reef
1583- 1600- Porites coral settles on the reef
1770- Captain James Cook and the Endeavour explore the GBR
1887- Orpheus Island was named by Lieutenant G. E. Richards after the Orpheus, a British naval vessel wrecked off the coast of New Zealand in 1863
1974 – Charlie Veron commences coral research at Orpheus Island
1975- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park declared
1978- James Cook University builds Orpheus Island Research Station (OIRS)
1981- Great Barrier Reef declared World Heritage site
2004 OIRS facilities upgraded
2021- Muga dhambi (Big coral) discovered and measured
2021- First scientific paper from OIRS that uses indigenous place name Goolboodi

Repairing wetlands using big business

Researchers believe an innovative new scheme could help save and restore threatened wetlands, such as those that are crucial to the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

The research, from a James Cook University-led international multi-disciplinary collaborative team, was recently published in Cell’s One Earth journal.

Dr Adam Canning and Dr Nathan Waltham from JCU’s Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, and Dr Diane Jarvis from JCU’s College of Business, Law & Governance, say that although wetlands support high biodiversity and many benefits to humans (ecosystem services), they are one the most damaged ecosystems globally.

“Wetlands provide about $47.4 trillion a year worth of ‘ecosystem services’ globally and support immense biodiversity, yet they face widespread drainage and pollution, and large-scale wetlands restoration is urgently needed,” said lead investigator Dr Canning.

He said previous estimates indicate that 54-57% – and possibly as much as 87% – of global wetlands have been lost to agricultural, urban and industrial expansion.

Dr Canning said there are many schemes that will fund the restoration of wetlands for their ecosystem services (such as fishing, providing clean water, storing carbon, recreation and cultural values), but they differ a lot in their ability to actually deliver wetland restorations, particularly at large-scale.

“In our paper, we propose using Common Asset Trusts (CAT) as a vehicle for navigating payment for ecosystem service schemes as we believe this approach increases financial viability, and promotes greater efficiency and efficacy in restoring wetlands and their services,” Dr Canning said.

He said a CAT would invest in, restore and manage wetlands as common property, aiming to maximise the dividends arising from the ecosystem services that are distributed to the public.

“This avoids the need to rely solely on the privatisation of a single ecosystem service, such as the generation and sale of carbon credits.

“These approaches are often financially risky, difficult and expensive to reliably quantify, and may result in wetland management that advances some values at the expense of others.

“Many services provided by wetlands are enjoyed widely and cannot be discretely traded. Valuing wetlands as sole providers of discretely traded goods and services is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” Dr Canning said.

Dr Jarvis says CATs have multiple benefits, including financial resilience, high flexibility in investment, ability for long-term and strategic planning, they allow for inclusive and deliberative decision-making, and benefit from well-established legal mechanisms and conflict resolution procedures designed for trusts.

“They also allow a coordinated framework for strategic planning; providing a platform for high levels of collaboration and bringing multiple individual projects under a single unit to efficiently and strategically achieve objectives,” Dr Jarvis said.

Dr Canning says investors in a Wetland Investment Fund linked to a CAT would receive dividends in credits (for example carbon, water quality and biodiversity), which they could use directly in the case of polluting industries (such as airlines using carbon credits), sell if they were a professional investor seeking a monetary return, or reinvest in the trust if they were an environmental NGO.

Dr Waltham said there was great potential for a CAT to be established in the Great Barrier Reef catchment, as wetlands improve water quality and fisheries of the Great Barrier Reef, and help more broadly in the fight against climate change.

Funding for this research project was provided through the Australian Government National Environment Science Program, Tropical Water Quality Hub, which was awarded to Dr Waltham.


Canning, A., Jarvis, D., Costanza, R., Hasan, S., Smart, J, Finisdore, J., Lovelock, C., Greenhalgh, S., Marr, H., Beck, M., Gillies, C., & Waltham, N. (2021). Financial incentives for large-scale wetland restoration: beyond markets to common asset trusts. One Earth 4, 937–950. DOI:


Drs Adam Canning, Diane Jarvis and Nathan Waltham thank their collaboration partners for their contribution towards the study.

Dr Adam Canning
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