Scientists have discovered a well-hidden coral reef that has been hidden for hundreds, if not thousands of years in South Carolina. The coral reef stretches across the seafloor of the Atlantic Ocean, close to the southeastern part of the U.S. Thanks to a deep-sea exploration expedition, this well-hidden coral reef saw the light of day.
Scientists of the research vessel (RV) Atlantis are behind this discovery made last week. The coral reef stretches across 160 miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, according to a report in HuffPost. Thanks to the submersible human-operated vehicle (HOV) Alvin, scientists caught sight of large coral populations, stretching at the depth of about 0.5 miles under the surface of the ocean.
The researchers saw great populations of living coral that are growing on the top of the remains of late coral, that were most likely sitting on the ocean floor for a millennia. “Just mountains of it,” said Eric Cordes, expedition lead scientist and an associate professor at the department of Biology at Temple University in Philadelphia, in a report to HuffPost.
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The Alvin vehicle was deployed to learn more about the reef and collect some coral samples that the research team could use for research purposes. The exploration dives were conducted on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24. The team discovered great amounts of Lophelia pertusa, a whitish, branching coral that likely stays in cold waters.
Tropical corals usually feed on symbiotic algae in order to survive. However, L. pertusa doesn’t. Instead it uses stinging tentacles that stuns the prey and then feeds on it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The well-hidden coral reef was found at around 16 miles to the northwest of the corals that were found earlier in the summer by the NOAA RV Okeanos Explorer. Okeanos Explorer was mapping hundreds of seamounts that live on the ocean floor, according to HuffPost.
When added together, the two coral reef areas extend to an estimated 85 miles, while also consisting of huge amounts of rocky piles of dead coral that has likely been there for hundreds of years, if not thousands, Cordes told HuffPost.
The RV Atlantis started its exploration on Aug. 19 that will last 15 days. The expedition is a part of a 4.5 year collaborative project called Deep Sea Exploration and Research of Coral/Canyon/Cold seep Habitats (Deep SEARCH), according to the mission explanatory on the website.
The mission will last until Sept. 2, and during the rest of the mission the researchers from the Atlantis will explore different deep sea ecosystems close to the southeastern U.S. coast. During their research, they will also collect vastly important data on how the distribution of those ecosystems work as well as the wildlife in them. The sea bottom explorations will also contribute to our understanding and capability to predict the fragile nature of these communities, and how we can stop disrupting them, as per NOAA on the Deep SEARCH website.
Hopefully, this well-hidden coral reef in South Carolina also teaches scientists other ways of protecting coral from bleaching and climate change factors.