There’s been a miraculous discovery made in the depths of the South Pacific Ocean—a rare stretch of pristine corals off the coast of Tahiti that appears to be unscathed by climate change or human activities.
The coral reef was first discovered by Laetitia Hédouin from France’s National Center for Scientific Research and her colleagues. They first spotted it at depths of between 35 and 70 meters while they were on a diving expedition off the peninsula of Tahiti. The astounding reef is primarily made up of two coral species. Porites rus dominates from 30 to 45 meters deep, however, at depths of 50 to 55 meters, Pachyseris speciosa takes over.
“It looks like a giant rose garden going as far as the eye can see,” says Julian Barbière at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. “It’s a very healthy reef, like a dream come true,” he continues. “In the middle of the biodiversity crisis, this is very good news.”
According to Barbière, the reef is one of the only ones that have been found at such depths, in what is called the twilight zone of the ocean.
“There might be many more large reefs in our ocean at such depth that require more investigation,” he adds. “This could be one of the largest coral reefs at this depth as far as we know, but the fact is that we haven’t really looked for coral reefs at this depth.
Currently, only 20 percent of the seafloor is mapped. If more of it is mapped at even greater depths, researchers can better understand how to protect and manage the fundamental ecosystems, like coral reefs, that millions of people around the world rely on.
“Until now, we see reefs in two dimensions, and we rarely include the depth as a critical dimension,” Hédouin reveals. “[But it] is important for protection, management, and conservation targets.”