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Scientists Map World's Largest Deep-Sea Coral Reef

Since the 1960s, scientists have been aware of some corals off the Atlantic Coast, but the size of the reef was unknown. That is until mapping technology came along that allowed 3D images to be made of the seafloor.


Now, for the first time, scientists have succeeded in mapping the largest deep-sea coral reef in the world, which runs hundreds of miles off the Atlantic coast of the United States. The massive 6.4 million acre reef is bigger than the state of Vermont, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.


“It’s eye-opening - it’s breathtaking in scale,” said Stuart Sandin, a Scripps Institution marine biologist, as reported by The Associated Press.


Dense fields of Lophelia pertusa
Dense fields of Lophelia pertusa, a common reef-building coral, found on the Blake Plateau. The white coloring is healthy as deep-sea corals don’t rely on symbiotic algae, so they can’t bleach | NOAA Ocean Exploration, Windows to the Deep 2019

The study region extends from Miami to Charleston, covering the Blake Plateau seafloor, which is approximately 100 miles off the southeastern coast of the United States. The researchers identified an incredible 83,908 distinct coral mound summits, demonstrating the extent of this previously unknown marine treasure. It lies at depths ranging from 656 to 3,280 feet, where the average water temperature is 39 degrees Fahrenheit (3.8C).


“Cold-water corals such as these grow in the deep ocean where there is no sunlight and survive by filter-feeding biological particles,” according to a press release issued by NOAA. Despite their importance as ecosystem engineers, providing shelter, food, and nursery habitat for numerous marine animals, these corals are still poorly understood.


The NOAA research is vital for forecasting and reducing the impact of human activities on these fragile ecosystems. The discovery of the greatest deep-sea coral reef off America's Atlantic seaboard marks a watershed moment in marine exploration, and helps enable scientists to understand and preserve these hidden beauties for future generations.

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