Sunday December 04, 2022

Tahiti’s Newly Discovered Coral Reef Is an Absolute MasterpieceThe Newly Discovered Coral Reef in Tahiti Is a Masterpiece

Photo: Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO

A “work of art” has been discovered in the South Pacific. But rather a canvas, this one is under the sea. It’s a sprawling coral reef that looks like a beautiful, otherworldly rose garden. Bonus: The reef is surprisingly healthy.

Scientists first discovered the reef in November, and released photos and videos of their exploration of the reef this week. The reef, researchers say, is one of the largest and healthiest left on the planet. They called its condition “unrivaled” in a time when many other reefs are suffering and dying due to rising ocean temperatures and acidification.

“For once, it’s a positive story about coral reefs in the news, which is quite rare these days,” Julian Barbiere, UNESCO’s head of marine policy, told CNN.

Photo: Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO

The reef is located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Tahiti and runs for 2 miles (3 kilometers). It’s especially visually striking due to its unique shape, resembling a massive bed of underwater roses. Some of these coral “roses” are more than 6 feet (2 meters) across.

It may seem strange that such a big and thriving coral reef could have stayed undiscovered for so long—especially given its proximity to Tahiti, a popular tourist destination known for its vibrant reefs. But this stretch of coral was discovered at depths of 98 to 230 feet (30 to 70 meters), much deeper levels of water than where corals usually flourish.

Photo: Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO

Reefs the size of this one can take up to 30 years to grow so large, researchers say, which indicates the reef has been thriving for several decades. Some researchers on the expedition said they could see signs of this reef spawning.

Scientists discovered the reef in a part of the ocean known as the mesophotic zone. The region is sandwiched between the shallower parts of the ocean that receive regular sunlight and the deeper, darker parts of the ocean. (“Mesophotic” is an amalgamation of the Greek words for “middle” and “light.”) This zone is the deepest part of the ocean that sunlight can penetrate. It has much less light than shallower waters, but enough sunlight that the algae that corals feed off of can still survive.

Photo: Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO

This lack of light also explains the corals’ unique shape on this reef—and why it may have survived in an ocean that’s increasingly deadly to other corals. Corals in regions of the ocean with more light often grow in branch-like shapes, which could make them more vulnerable to rising temperatures. This coral, like others in the mesophotic zone, had to maximize its surface area in order to take advantage of the low light, resulting in the petal-like pattern. That could make it hardier than other types of coral to the impact climate change is having on the oceans.

“We think that deeper reefs may be better protected from global warming,” marine biologist Laetitia Hédouin told CNN. “So the discovery of this reef in such a pristine condition is good news and can inspire future conservation.”

Photo: Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO

Corals have been documented in the mesophotic zone before, including in canyons off Australia. But much of this zone remains unexplored, and only about 20% of the ocean’s floor has been mapped in high resolution. Based on this and other discoveries, researchers believe there could be even more reefs are out there waiting to be discovered.

“The fact that we are finding a very healthy and pristine coral reef at depths of 30 to 70 meters [98 to 230 feet] is quite unusual,” Barbière told the Washington Post. “There could be all those reefs out there that have not been mapped or studied.”

Photo: Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO

The way this reef is thriving stands in sharp contrast to how climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, and other inputs have wreaked havoc on much of the world’s coral reefs. Studies have shown that coral ecosystems have declined worldwide by half since 1950, and all of Earth’s corals could be gone by the end of the century if the world doesn’t end the use of fossil fuels.

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has been particularly susceptible, suffering multiple bleaching events in recent years; a study released in 2020 found that coral populations of all ages and locations across the massive reef have nosedived over the past two decades, indicating that the reef is in a death spiral.

Photo: Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO

Given the pressures climate change is putting on the planet, the new find is an excellent reminder of the value to keep exploring. Deep-sea reefs could offer a refuge for coral and other ocean creatures. Knowing where they are could allow for their protection.

“While we are witnessing major investment in space exploration, there’s not enough on studying our own home and the ocean in particular,” Barbiere told CNN. “And I think this is really where we want to put our emphasis in the next 10 years—to create the knowledge we need to put the planet on the sustainable path through marine protected areas.”

Photo by Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO. A “work of Art” was discovered in the South Pacific. This one is not a canvas. It’s under the sea. It’s a vast coral reef that looks almost like a rose garden. Bonus: The reef is extremely healthy. Scientists discovered the reef for the first time in November. They released photos and videos this week. Researchers claim that the reef is one of the most healthy and largest on the planet. Its condition was described as “unrivaled” at a time when many reefs are dying and rising ocean temperatures. Julian Barbiere, UNESCO’s chief of marine policy, said that CNN had “for once, it’s a positive news story about coral reefs.” Photo by Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO This reef is located in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Tahiti. It runs for approximately 2 miles (3 km). Its unique shape, which resembles a huge bed of underwater roses, makes it visually stunning. Some coral “roses”, measuring more than 6 feet (2 m) in length, are larger than others.
It may seem odd that such a large and vibrant coral reef could go undiscovered for so many years, especially considering its proximity to Tahiti which is a popular tourist destination for its vibrant reefs. This coral reef was found at depths of 98-230 feet (30-70 meters), which is much deeper than the usual coral growth zone. Photo by Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO A reef the size of this one can grow to 30 years in length, according to researchers. This indicates that the reef has been thriving over many decades. Some expedition researchers said they could see signs that the reef is spawning. Scientists found the reef in the ocean’s mesophotic zone. This region is located between the ocean’s deeper, darker areas and the ocean’s shallower parts that receive regular sunlight. “Mesophotic” refers to the combination of the Greek words “middle” (light) and “middle”. This is the deepest area of the ocean where sunlight can penetrate. It receives less sunlight than the shallower waters, but still has enough sunlight to allow corals to survive. Photo by Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO This is why the corals have a unique shape and may have survived in an ocean that is becoming increasingly dangerous to other corals. Corals that live in areas with more sunlight often develop branch-like structures, which can make them more susceptible to rising temperatures. Like other corals in the mesophotic area, this coral had to maximize its surface area to take advantage of low light. This resulted in the petal-like shape. This coral could be more resilient than other types to the effects of climate change on the oceans.

CNN’s Laetitia Hedouin, a marine biologist, stated that deeper reefs are more likely to be protected from global warming. “So the discovery that this reef is in such pristine condition is good news, and can inspire future conservation.” Photo by Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO Corals have been documented previously in the mesophotic zones, including in canyons off Australia. However, this area is still vastly unexplored and only 20% of the ocean floor has been mapped at high resolution. Researchers believe that there may be more reefs out there, based on these and other discoveries. Barbiere said that it was quite unusual to find a healthy and pristine coral reef at depths between 30 and 70 meters (98 to 230 feet) in the Washington Post. “There could be many reefs out there that haven’t been mapped or studied.” Photo by Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO This reef’s thriving is a stark contrast to the damage done by climate change, ocean acidification, and other inputs. Research has shown that coral ecosystems worldwide have declined by half since 1950. If the world continues to use fossil fuels, all of Earth’s corals may be gone by the end.

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has been particularly vulnerable to multiple bleaching events in recent decades. A 2020 study found that coral populations across the vast reef have declined over the past 20 years, which indicates that the reef is in a downward spiral. Photo by Alexis Rosenfeld/UNESCO The new discovery is a great reminder of the importance of continuing to explore the planet in light the increasing pressures that climate change is putting upon it. Coral and other marine creatures could find refuge in deep-sea coral reefs. Their location could be used to protect them. Barbiere stated to CNN that while space exploration is gaining significant investment, not enough attention has been paid to studying the ocean and our home. “And I think that this is where we should really put our focus in the next ten years – to create the knowledge needed to put the planet on a sustainable path through marine protected zones.”

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