Story at a glance
- A team of divers this week uncovered one of the largest coral reefs in the world on the seafloor off the coast of Tahiti, the United Nations said Thursday.
- Researchers speculate the unusual depth of the reef suggests deeper reefs are better protected from the effects of climate change.
- Further investigations of the reef are planned for the coming months.
A team of international divers this week stumbled upon acres of untouched corals on the ocean floor off the coast of Tahiti, in what’s known as the ocean’s “Twilight Zone,” suggesting many more miles of coral reef could be sitting undiscovered at the bottom of the ocean.
The coral reef is one of the largest in the world, the United Nations, which supported the diving mission, said Thursday, adding that the depths of the reef — between 30 and 65 meters — make it a “highly unusual” find.
The vast majority of the world’s known coral reefs only descend to around 25 meters, the organization said, and early indications suggest that the reef’s depth protected it from bleaching related to climate change.
That likely means deeper reefs are better protected from the effects of warming, Laetitia Hedouin, an environmental researcher present on the mission, said.
A 2017 United Nations report estimated that the world’s coral reefs will undergo “severe” bleaching — wherein typically pink corals turn white due to changes in temperature, light or nutrient content — annually beginning in 2043.
“Without the required minimum of five years to regenerate, the annual occurrences will have a deadly effect on the corals and disrupt the ecosystems which they support,” then-head of the U.N. Environment Program, Erik Solheim, said.
The “rose-like” corals found this week measure up to 2 meters in diameter, the U.N. said, which is significantly larger than most average corals.
“It was magical to witness giant, beautiful rose corals which stretch for as far as the eye can see,” Alexis Rosenfeld, a French underwater photographer who led the diving mission, said Thursday in a statement. “It was like a work of art.”
Until recently, few scientists have been able to locate or study coral reefs at depths of more than 30 meters, the U.N. said, though advances in technology mean longer, deeper dives are now possible.
Just less than 20 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, said last year.
“We know the surface of the moon better than the deep ocean,” UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said Thursday.
The diving team in total spent roughly 200 hours studying the reef and were able to witness the coral spawning, the U.N. said.
Researchers plan to continue investigations around the reef in the coming months.
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