‘Extensive’ Deep-Sea Coral Reef Discovered in Galápagos Marine Reserve

The R/V Atlantis and the research submarine Alvin are pictured in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador November 11, 2021. UBristol/WHOI/UEssex/UBoise/NERC/NSF/National Park Galapagos/Handout via REUTERS

‘Extensive’ Deep-Sea Coral Reef Discovered in Galápagos Marine Reserve

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 5134
April 17, 2023

Scientists have announced the discovery of an extensive deep-sea coral reef in Ecuador’s Galápagos Marine Reserve, marking a first-of-its kind discovery in the marine reserve.

The undocumented reefs were discovered at a depth of 1,310 to 1,970 feet on the summit of a previously unmapped seamount in the central part of the protected area.

Researchers with the National Science Foundation described the “ancient” deep-sea coral reefs as being host to “a breathtaking mix of deep marine life” and the first of their kind to be documented since the Galápagos Marine Reserve was established in 1998.

Encompassing some 51,000 mi² off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Marine Reserve is one of the world’s largest marine protected areas and is known for its vast biodiversity, including many species that unique to the area.

The reef’s structure spans several kilometers, cresting the ridge of a previously uncharted submerged volcano.

A view of an ancient and pristine coral reef discovered by a scientific expedition in the depths of the Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador, is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on April 17, 2023. UBristol/WHOI/UEssex/UBoise/NERC/NSF/National Park Galapagos/Handout via REUTERS

Video of the reefs was first captured by scientists Michelle Taylor and Stuart Banks while diving in the human-occupied submersible “Alvin,” launched from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) research vessel “Atlantis.”

The observation represents the first deep-sea coral reef found in the Galápagos Marine Reserve.

Led by Daniel Fornari, a marine geologist at the WHO, and including scientists from Boise State University, the U.S. National Science Foundation-supported expedition is in collaboration with the Galápagos National Park Directorate, Charles Darwin Foundation, and the Ecuadorian Navy’s Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute. The Natural Environmental Research Council in the UK also funded the expedition.

The submersible Alvin is equipped with high-quality still and ultra-high definition 4K video imaging systems, as well as enhanced sampling capabilities.

Fornari has studied the marine environment in the Galápagos for more than two decades. “Exploring, mapping and sampling the Galápagos Platform is an opportunity to apply 21st-century deep-submergence and seafloor mapping technologies and innovative deep-sea imaging techniques to reveal the beauty and complexity of the volcanic and biological processes that make the Galápagos so unique,” he Fornari

Gail Christeson, a program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences, described the discovery as illustrative of the importance of international collaborations to map and image unexplored regions of the seafloor.

According to the Ecuadorian Minister of Environment, Jose Antonio Dávalos, the discovery of the deep-sea coral reefs is a promising development and reaffirms Ecuador’s commitment to establish new marine protected areas and create a regional marine protected area in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. He further stated that the unexplored depths of the ocean and their richness make it even more important to work towards achieving the commitments of the Global Ocean Alliance 30×30, an initiative that aims to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

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