Massive Coral Reef System Just Discovered At Mouth Of Amazon River

Recently, a paper was published in the journal Science Advances by a team of scientists from Brazil and United States, describes the discovery of a coral reef system that is 600 miles long (Larger than the state of Delaware!).


A map of the Amazon shelf showing the newly discovered reef structures in yellow.  Courtesy of Carlos Rezende (UENF) and Fabiano Thompson (UFRJ)

Patricia Yager of the University of Georgia and her research team received funding to go to the mouth of the Amazon to study how the nutrient-rich plume of the world’s largest river affects the ocean in 2012.

However, Yager also wanted to explore the premise of a scientific article from the 1970s that mentioned a scientist capturing reef fish along the continental shelf, which suggested a coral reef may be somewhere in the area.

The search proved fruitful. “We brought up the most amazing and colorful animals I had ever seen on an expedition,” Yager said.


Scientists shown with specimens they collected from the newly discovered reef during trawling and dredging. F. Moraes/Courtesy of Carlos Rezende (UENF) and Fabiano Thompson (UFRJ)

As it turns out, a lot of the reason this amazing reef system was never discovered has to do with what’s in oceanography textbooks.

Because coral needs light to grow, conventional wisdom says that a big, muddy tropical river like the Amazon or the Congo in Africa blocks so much light a coral reef would be prohibited from growing.


A plume of muddy Amazonian freshwater floats atop salty ocean water, occluding the coral reef below. LANCE WILLIS

Due to the movement of the Amazon’s plume during the year, the southern end of this reef system gets enough sunlight for corals to grow.

Isn’t it amazing how much we are still learning about our Oceans?

Unfortunately, this coral reef system is already in danger…

“From ocean acidification and ocean warming to plans for offshore oil exploration right on top of these new discoveries, the whole system is at risk from human impacts,” Yager said.

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