Deep underwater, in the twilight zone of the ocean, just feet below the surface, is a community of bioluminescent fish, squid, octopus, and jellyfish. Off Tahiti, divers have discovered that the mysterious, dimly lit area is also home to species that typically need sunlight and shallow heat to thrive – coral.
A group of scientific divers discovered a huge rose-shaped coral reef between about 98 and 213 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near the islands of Tahiti in French Polynesia, UNESCO announced Thursday. The reef, discovered in a “primel” state in November, is nearly two miles long and 200 feet wide. The rose-shaped corals are giant, measuring up to over 6.5 feet in diameter.
It is believed to be “one of the largest healthy coral reefs on record”, UNESCO said.
“We know the surface of the Moon better than the depths of the ocean. Only 20% of the entire seabed has been mapped,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azouley said in a press release. . “This remarkable discovery in Tahiti demonstrates the incredible work of scientists who, with the support of UNESCO, are deepening our knowledge of what lies beneath.”
The find, as UNESCO said, is “highly unusual” because the coral tends to grow at depths down to around 82 feet, where the water is warmer and receives more light. The divers spent around 200 hours underwater surveying the reef, UNESCO said, essentially going into uncharted territory.
Deep coral reefs could not be studied extensively due to the available diving tools. But divers now have the tools to dive longer at greater depths and plan to continue studying the area.
Alexis Rosenfeld, one of the divers who explored the reef, said in a Facebook Publish writes in French that the reef resembles the work of a “great seamstress”. In a statement, he added that “it was magical to see beautiful giant pink corals stretching as far as the eye can see.”
“It was like a work of art,” he said.
UNESCO declared the Twitter that the discovery is “a great leap forward” for science, as it was discovered as part of the organization’s efforts to map the ocean.
Globally, coral reefs are in danger.
In 2020, savvy scientists that coral reefs will decline by 70-90% within 20 years due to severe bleaching due to global warming. Bleaching is a condition in which algae leave the coral, turning it white and making it more susceptible to disease.
By 2100, researchers have found that climate change and pollution will make the ocean so acidic that almost all coral reef habitat would have to be eliminated. The only coral reef sites that scientists believe would still be viable at this time are small portions of Baja California and the Red Sea, neither of which are ideal due to their proximity to rivers.
A to study published in One Earth in September found that global living coral cover halved between 1957 and 2007, as did the ability of reefs to support the ecosystem.
Several effects of climate change, including sea level rise, ocean acidification from fossil fuel emissions and stronger storms, are also expected to weigh on reefs, according to the Coral Reef Alliance.
And all of these factors would not only be disastrous for the reefs, but also for humans and marine life.
According to Alliance, coral reefs support more than 500 million people around the world by providing food, income and coastal protection, among other things. Reefs are also home to “the greatest number of species of any ecosystem outside of rainforests”, according to the Alliance.
But the newly discovered reef could offer a sign of hope.
Researcher Laetitia Hedouin of France’s National Center for Scientific Research said French Polynesia suffered a “significant” bleaching episode in 2019, but the reef “does not appear to have been significantly affected”.
“Finding this reef in such pristine condition is good news and can inspire future conservation,” Hedouin said. “We believe that deeper reefs can be better protected from global warming.”