A team of international scientists has discovered a large ancient coral reef in the water of the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR). The stunning reef is home to a mesmerizing mix of marine life and was first located at an unmapped sea mount at a depth of 400-600m/~1,310-1,970 feet). The reef structure was first recorded by Dr. Michelle Taylor from the University of Essex, UK, and Dr. Stuart Banks from the Charles Darwin Foundation, Ecuador. The pair were aboard the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution WHOI, USA, operated deep-sea research submersible Alvin.
The recording of the reef is part of an i9ntenraitl team effort to explore the waters of the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR). The Galápagos Deep 2023 expedition is centered on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution-operated vessel, the R/V Atlantis.
Commenting on the discovery Jose Antonio Dávalos the Minister of Environment of Ecuador, stated:
“This is encouraging news. It reaffirms our determination to establish new marine protected areas in Ecuador and to continue promoting the creation of a regional marine protected area in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The richness of the yet explored depths of our ocean is another reason to strive towards achieving the commitments of the Global Ocean Alliance 30×30, which aims to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, aligning sustainable economic activities with conservation.”
While co-lead of the expedition and Chair of the Deep Sea Society from the University of Essex Dr. Michelle Taylor added:
“The discovered reefs are novel for several reasons – in shallow reefs where finding 10-20% of coral cover would be considered a relatively unhealthy reef, in the deep-sea this is the norm. Dead coral skeletons making up the remaining 80-90% still provide homes for a huge diversity of life, which is less reliant on the live sections of coral. However, the reefs we’ve found in the last few days have 50-60% live coral in many areas, which is very rare indeed. They are pristine and teeming with life – pink octopus, batfish, squat lobsters and an array of deep-sea fish, sharks, and rays. These newly discovered reefs are potentially of global significance – a canary in the mine for other reefs globally – sites which we can monitor over time to see how pristine habitats evolve with our current climate crisis.”
Adding his thoughts, Senior Marine Researcher at the Charles Darwin Foundation and national observer on this expedition Dr. Stuart Banks, explained:
“The captivating thing about these reefs is that they are very old and essentially pristine, unlike those found in many other parts of the world’s oceans. This gives us reference points to understand their importance for marine natural biodiversity heritage, connectivity with regional MPAs, as well as their role in providing goods and services such as carbon cycling and fisheries. It also helps us reconstruct past ocean environments to understand modern climate change. Open waters cover over 95% of the known GMR, of which less than 5% have been explored through modern research expeditions. It’s very likely there are more reef structures across different depths waiting to be explored. We’ll forge ahead with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and partners to help ensure that such newly discovered habitats are folded into the GMR and Hermandad Marine Reserve planning process and recognized as part of their considerable world heritage value”.
You can find out more about the Galápagos Deep 2023 expedition here.
You can check out a video of the reef below.