Submerged banks in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, greatly increase available coral reef habitat

Anthropogenic global ocean warming is predicted to cause bleaching of many near-sea-surface (NSS) coral reefs, placing increased importance on deeper reef habitats to maintain coral reef biodiversity and ecosystem function. However, the location and spatial extent of many deep reef habitats is poorly known. The question arises: how common are deep reef habitats in comparison with NSS reefs? We used a dataset from the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to show that only about 39% of available seabed on submerged banks is capped by NSS coral reefs (16 110 km2); the other 61% of bank area (25 600 km2) is submerged at a mean depth of around 27 m and represents potential deep reef habitat that is spatially distributed along the GBR continental shelf in the same latitudinal distribution as NSS reefs. Out of 25 600 km2 of submerged bank area, predictive habitat modelling indicates that more than half (around 14 000 km2) is suitable habitat for coral communities.

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