A team of researchers have recently completed mapping the largest known deep-sea coral reef off the Atlantic coast of the United States.
A team of scientists has charted the most expansive deep-sea coral reef on record, spanning hundreds of miles along the eastern coast of the United States.
Since the 1960s, scientists have been aware of the existence of coral in the Atlantic. However, the exact size of the reef was unknown until recent advancements in underwater mapping allowed for the creation of 3D representations of the ocean bottom.
According to Derek Sowers, an oceanographer at the Ocean Exploration Trust, the biggest deep-sea coral reef known to date has been hidden in plain sight and has been waiting to be found.
Sowers and other researchers, including those at the federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, recently released maps of the reef in the scientific journal Geomatics.
The reef spans a distance of approximately 310 miles (500km) from Florida to South Carolina, with a width of up to 68 miles (110km) at certain points. Its total size is almost triple that of Yellowstone National Park.
Stuart Sandin, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who was not part of the research, described it as a stunning and expansive revelation.
The reef was discovered at depths between 655 feet and 3,280 feet (200 and 1,000 meters), where sunlight cannot reach. In contrast to tropical coral reefs, which rely on photosynthesis for growth, this coral must extract food particles from the water for energy.
According to researchers, deep coral reefs serve as a home for a variety of marine creatures such as sharks, swordfish, sea stars, octopuses, shrimp, and various types of fish.
Scientists and individuals who enjoy snorkeling or diving are more familiar with tropical reefs due to their high accessibility. The Great Barrier Reef, the largest tropical coral reef system in the world, spans approximately 1,430 miles (2,300km) in Australia.
Sowers suggested that there may be a chance of finding larger deep-sea reefs in the future, as currently only a quarter of the Earth’s ocean floor has been accurately mapped.
High-resolution sonar devices carried on ships are utilized to produce maps of the ocean floor. The amount of ocean floor covered by deep-sea reefs is greater than that of tropical reefs.
According to Erik Cordes, a marine biologist from Temple University and co-author of the study, both types of habitats are at risk of being affected by climate change and disturbance caused by oil and gas drilling.
Reporting was provided by The Associated Press.