Scientists discover ancient coral reefs in the Galapagos
A thriving coral reef. Photo courtesy of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Scientists discover ancient coral reefs in the Galapagos

Earlier this year in April, a team of scientists onboard the deep-sea research submarine named “Alvin” operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered a kilometers-long coral reef well below the surface of the water, where most corals across the globe are suffering from the effects of coral bleaching and climate change. The discovery was made in the Galápagos Islands Marine Reserve, an area that spreads across hundreds of thousands of square kilometers in South America.

The reef was found approximately 500-700 meters below the ocean’s surface, teeming with life in ways scientists Michelle Taylor of the University of Essex and Stuart Banks of the Charles Darwin Foundation didn’t expect on the crescent-shaped reef they dubbed “croissant coral.”

“Considering how much the ocean remains undiscovered, it makes sense that oceanographers are making new discoveries constantly as we explore more of the oceans,” Third-year and President of the Bull Sharks Dive Club Noah Tyler said via email. “This does not diminish the significance of this discovery though.”

“This is encouraging news,” Minister of Environment of Ecuador, Jose Antonio Dávalos, told The National Science Foundation. “It reaffirms our determination to establish new marine protected areas in Ecuador and to continue promoting the creation of a regional marine protected area in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

“The richness of the depths of our as yet unexplored ocean is another reason to strive toward achieving the commitments of the Global Ocean Alliance 30×30, which aims to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030, aligning sustainable economic activities with conservation,” Dávalos continued.

While there is much to celebrate, Tyler offered an important ecological perspective to keep in mind: “The high complexity and sturdiness of shallow water corals allow a high biodiversity of fishes and invertebrates to reside on the reef as the corals provide protection from predators,” Tyler explained. “Unfortunately, deep water corals cannot provide benefits to nearly the same degree. What we are starting to see are these deepwater corals, or corals like them (such as sea fan corals), taking over reefs and causing a degrading effect on the reef due to their inability to serve in the same ecology roles as shallow water corals that rely on symbiotic algae.  This ecological shift is not necessarily a positive change, but it’s an adaptation to the increasing water temperatures resulting in the breakdown in the symbiotic relationships between typical hard corals and their symbiotic algae.”

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