Multibeam sonar mapping, drill cores and underwater video data have confirmed the existence of a previously unknown reef province in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. Seven reefs, comprised of coral limestone that support living corals have been mapped so far and as many as 50 other reefs may exist in the region. U/Th ages show that reef growth commenced shortly after limestone pedestals were submerged by rising sea level around 10.5 kyr BP, making them the oldest reefs known in Australia. Reef growth persisted for ~2.0 kyr but it had ceased at most locations by ~8.0 kyr BP. Measurements of reef growth rates (0.95 to 4 m kyr-1), indicate that the reefs were unable to keep pace with contemporaneous rapid sea level rise (>10 m kyr-1), which is consistent with a 'give up' reef growth history. Core samples from reef platforms demonstrate that Pleistocene limestone is exposed in depths of 27 and 30 m below present mean sea level. These depths represent regionally significant phases of reef growth during a prolonged sea level still stand. We conclude that the reefs are therefore mostly relict features, whose major phase of growth and development relates to an earlier, pre-Holocene sea level stillstand.
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