Scientists believe that the discovery of a coral reef off Tahiti’s coast could indicate that there may be more ecosystems in the ocean.
The pristine corals in rose-shaped shapes are stunning and can be seen stretching for thousands of kilometres.
This is one rare find of its kind. An unspoilt reef, larger than most others and deeper than all the rest.
Corals are most common at depths greater than 25m, where they get the majority of the sunlight that they need to reproduce.
This huge reef, discovered in French Polynesia by UNESCO scientists, stretches between 30m and 70m – what’s known to be the ocean’s “twilight area”.
It is believed that the reef may have been protected from the worst effects caused by global warming because it was so deep.
Sky News’ Julian Barbiere, UNESCO’s Director of Research, stated that “we have lost about half our coral reefs in 70 years.” But this is healthy and extensive. It suggests that there may still be coral reefs in other parts of the globe.
“It’s the stuff that makes your dreams come true – it makes you appreciate the beauty and the treasure of the marine environment.”
A team of scientists used state-of the-art diving equipment to locate and measure the reef.
Because of limitations in the equipment used, few scientists have been able explore reefs below 30m.
Divers can now use advanced gear, such as rebreathers that use a specialised mixture of gas to stay deeper for longer periods.
After 200 hours of diving the team measured the reef at 3km and up to 65m, with some corals measuring 2m across.
This makes it one the largest known reefs at these depths. It also suggests that there could be more unspoiled reefs around the world, which is great news for marine conservationists.
Mr Barbiere stated that coral reefs are vital for ocean health. He said that they house about 25% of all species found in the marine environment.
“Reefs are also where new species and new medicines can be found.”
“We are able to derive more medicines from marine organisms, especially to treat cancer, arthritis, and infections.
“They also protect local communities against storms and tsunamis and generate a lot of revenue from tourism.”
To further investigate the reef and the marine species it supports, additional dives are planned for the future.
UNESCO will also partner with local communities in order to give them the tools to protect it, like designating marine protected zones.
The discovery shows how little is known about the underwater realm.
Only 20% of the seabed in the world has been mapped at the moment. This means that we know more about the moon’s surface than the deep ocean.
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Committee, which is part UNESCO, is currently working with other organizations and governments to map the seabed by 2030.
There is a chance that more rare and valuable ecosystems could be discovered along this journey.