An ancient coral reef teeming with life found in the Galapagos – National
The weekend spent by seafloor, reef and biologist Dr. Michelle Taylor and colleagues on a small submarine off the Galapagos Islands was a moment we will never forget.
“It was just the two of us and the pilot,” says Taylor. “We just lost. We were so excited.”
Taylor was part of a team that discovered a pristine, multi-kilometer-long ancient coral reef teeming with life at the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve on Sunday.
Global News spoke with Taylor and Dr. Stuart Banks aboard the research vessel Atlantis. They join the team in mapping and taking samples from the ocean floor when they make an unexpected discovery.
“We have a whole new hidden system,” says Banks. “It’s an important habitat and has been there for a very long time.”
The discovery took place inside the deep-sea research submarine Alvin. It is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
It’s a place the crew has been studying for over 20 years, but the submarine and cutting-edge technology have helped them dig deeper.
Coral reefs were found at depths of 500-700 meters. Corals are found down to depths of 8,000 meters, but most are near the surface and suffer.
Shallow water coral reefs are declining due to global warming.
More than 90% of the Great Barrier Reef off Australia has been lost to coral bleaching caused by ocean warming and ocean acidification.
“Trust me,” Taylor told Global News. “I’m a reef biologist. Good news is rare.”
Scientists were able to trace the reef about two kilometers to the top of an underwater mountain formed by volcanic activity. The leaf is half-moon shaped. The Atlantis crew jokingly calls it the Croissant Coral.
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The shallow water reefs in this region were destroyed by the El Niño event in the early 1980s. Only Wellington Reef off Darwin Island was thought to have survived.
This week’s discovery gives hope that there may be more. About 95% of the 130,000 square kilometers of the Galapagos Islands Marine Protected Area is open ocean.
“The area is huge,” says Banks. “If you take the water out, you’ve got volcanic submerged islands, volcanoes, canyons, canyons, and all sorts of other things going on.”
Newly discovered coral reefs also stand out for their health. The area has been protected as a reserve since 1998 and the corals have not been disturbed by humans.
Taylor says this is surprisingly rare in the deep sea, and this may be part of the reason so many corals thrive.
Deep-sea reefs are usually covered by 10-20% coral, while newly discovered reefs are 50-60%.
“You can see beautiful, pristine coral as far as the eye can see,” says Taylor. “It was a real treat.”
Only about 1% of the ocean floor is covered by coral reefs, but about a quarter of all marine life lives on coral reefs.
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