Like in many other places around the world, ocean warming has mostly destroyed the shallow-water reefs in the Galapagos Islands. The islands are some of the most carefully protected places in the world, but they can’t escape the effects of a warming planet.
Recently, however, scientists have discovered a healthy, sprawling coral reef hidden deep under the sea in the Galapagos. More than 1,300 feet underwater, the reef extends for several miles along the ridge of a previously unknown volcano in the Galapagos Marine Preserve.
The reef is pristine and is teeming with all sorts of marine life including pink octopus, batfish, squat lobsters, and a variety of deep-sea fish, sharks, and rays.
The expedition that discovered the new reef was led by the University of Essex in the UK. Prior to this discovery, scientists thought that coral reefs were all but gone from the Galapagos. A period of ocean warming in 1982 through 1983 wiped out more than 95% of the corals in the archipelago. Only a few reefs in shallow waters remained. The newly discovered reefs are sheltered deep under the sea and would have been protected from the deadly heat.
According to the scientists from the expedition, the newly discovered reef potentially has global significance because it represents a site that can be monitored over time to see how such a pristine habitat evolves with the ongoing climate crisis. Reefs like this are clearly very old because coral reefs take a long time to grow. Finding this one means that it is likely that there are more healthy reefs across different depths that are waiting to be discovered.
Photo, posted March 28, 2009, courtesy of Derek Keats via Flickr.