Scientists Unveil World’s Largest Deep-Sea Coral Reef, Spanning 6 Million Acres

Scientists Unveil World’s Largest Deep-Sea Coral Reef, Spanning 6 Million Acres

Marine Marvel Unearthed: Mapping the Blake Plateau’s Hidden Ecosystem

In a groundbreaking discovery, marine scientists have successfully located and mapped the largest known deep-sea coral reef, equivalent to the size of Vermont, teeming with unidentified species.

The monumental effort involved 23 submersible dives and 31 multibeam sonar mapping surveys, revealing a hidden ecosystem on the Atlantic’s deep-set Blake Plateau.

Pioneering Exploration: Unveiling the Depths of the Atlantic Ocean

Spanning a distance of nearly 311 miles from Miami, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina, the cold-water coral ecosystem on the Blake Plateau astonished researchers with its vastness and complexity.

The expedition, led by oceanographer Derek Sowers, employed advanced technology to explore the east-to-west width of over 68 miles in certain regions.

Mysteries Unveiled: Ghostly Corals on the Doorstep of the U.S. Coast

Situated right off the U.S. coast, the ghostly deep-sea corals found on the Blake Plateau are anticipated to harbor a multitude of undiscovered marine species.

Despite prior awareness dating back to the 1960s, it wasn’t until recent years that funding and technological capabilities enabled scientists to properly survey this enigmatic oceanic expanse.

‘Million Mounds’: A Coral Wonderland Fed by Gulf Stream Nutrients

The research team, collaborating with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), identified a high-density coral core named the ‘Million Mounds.’

This 158-mile-long and 26-mile-wide region primarily consists of the stony coral Desmophyllum pertusum, which, unlike shallow corals, filter-feeds on floating biological particles.

The eerie white appearance of this cold-water coral suggests a unique adaptation to the deep-sea environment.

Beyond Vermont: A Coral Network Larger Than a U.S. State

The NOAA estimates the full expanse of this coral network at approximately 6.4 million acres, surpassing the size of Vermont by hundreds of thousands of acres.

The research, published in the journal Geomatics, documents the massive scale of the coral province and underscores variations in density, height, and pattern of coral mound formation across different regions of the Blake Plateau.

Frozen Depths: Cold-Water Coral Thriving in Near-Freezing Conditions

Covering an area nearly the size of Florida, these deep coral mounds exist in near-freezing temperatures, thriving at depths between 656 feet and 3,280 feet.

The stony coral, D. pertusum, is uniquely adapted to these conditions, highlighting the adaptability of marine life in extreme environments.

Unlocking Secrets: Deep-Sea Coral Reefs as Vital Ecosystems

While deep-sea coral reefs are acknowledged as crucial hosts for complex ecosystems, providing shelter, food, and ‘nursery habitat’ to various marine life, much about these dark-dwelling invertebrates remains a mystery.

The study emphasizes the need for continued exploration and understanding of the approximately 50% of U.S. marine waters that are still unmapped.

Global Exploration: A Call to Action for Uncharted Oceans

Derek Sowers, Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, commends the collaborative effort to explore the U.S.

East Coast’s doorstep. He emphasizes the importance of pooling resources to explore the vast unmapped areas, providing a methodology for interpreting mapping data and advancing approaches to support ecosystem-based management and conservation efforts.

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