American Oceans

Pristine Coral Reefs Discovered in Uncharted Waters

a beautiful coral reef underwater

A recent deep-water expedition by the Schmidt Ocean Institute has discovered two pristine, cold-water coral reefs growing alongside the walls and bases of several seamounts over 1,000 feet below the surface in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The larger of the two reefs spans over 800 meters in length, the equivalent of eight football fields, and the second, smaller reef measures 250 meters in length. These cold-water corals were found at depths ranging from 1,200 to 1,375 feet (370 to 420 meters), which is much deeper than the typical depth limit of tropical coral reefs.

The expedition included 24 participating scientists representing 13 organizations and universities and lasted 30 days. One of the goals of the expedition was to apply laser scanning technology to create extremely high-resolution maps of these reefs and the seamounts they grow on, which was accomplished at an astounding 2-millimeter resolution. The inhabitants of these reefs included sea fans, or Gorgoans, and stony corals from the subclass Hexacorallia, or six-sided corals, which include almost only deep-sea corals but also sea anemones.

The discovery of these deep-sea coral reefs is significant because they are the second and third deep-sea coral reefs found in the Galapagos Island Marine Reserve, following the discovery of the first one this April by scientists onboard a research vessel from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The presence of these cold-water coral reefs in the Galapagos Marine Reserve suggests that they have likely been forming and supporting marine biodiversity for thousands of years.

Danny Rueda Córdova, director of the Galápagos National Park Directorate, stated that “This information is not only valuable from a scientific perspective, but it also provides a solid foundation for decision-making that effectively protects these ecosystems, safeguarding the biological diversity they harbor and ensuring their resilience in a constantly changing environment.”

The research contributes data to inform the management of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, a network of interconnected marine reserves managed by the governments of Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia. The scientists explored areas within the Isla del Coco National Marine Park, a protected area managed by Costa Rica, and examined links between coral communities on seamounts in the Galápagos and those in Costa Rica.

Charles Darwin Foundation’s CEO Stuart Banks said, “The Galápagos Marine Reserve is an area of outstanding biological importance, connected to partner marine protected areas across the Eastern Pacific. Finding such deep and long-lived reef takes us important steps closer to protecting hidden dimensions of ocean diversity and understanding the role that deep habitats play in maintaining our ocean’s health.”

These fascinating new findings continue to feed important research to inform better management of existing and future marine protected areas in the region. The discovery of these pristine, cold-water coral reefs highlights the global significance of the Galapagos Islands and their marine life.

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