NEJLIG 200 species of corals have been found flowering in deep parts of the Great Barrier Reef, more than six times those previously occupied at the same depths.
Researchers used remote-controlled vehicles and specialized divers to investigate coral reefs between Torres and Townsville in depths of up to 125m between 2010 and 2016.
Their findings have been published today in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Museum of Tropical Queensland Coral Collection Manager Dr. Paul Muir said 195 corals found during their studies represented a significant increase from the 32 species previously recorded at these depths across the Coral Sea.
Dr. Muir, who dived to a maximum of 40m to investigate deep waters, said the research group was surprised by their results.
"Corals need light for growth, and they have always been connected to shallow waters," he said.
"I think the perception is that those found deep were only a few species and not very large in the deeper areas.
"But we've kind of blown it out of the water."
He said that the results represented about half of the coral species in the region, suggesting that deeper habitats could play an important role in preserving coral biodiversity and helping regenerate damaged lava waters.
"If there are major bleaching events and big cyclone events, the deep reef areas can be quite decimated in places, but deeper reef areas seem to escape with much less damage," he said.
"Because so many species occur there are much more reduced chances of extinction of species in local areas.
"There is also the potential for the deep corals, spawning time, settling on low reefs and helping the low reef revenellers."
The researchers hope to return to depths to find out if deep sea corals can survive in lower areas and count populations of different species.