In Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, where ocean warming has decimated shallow-water reefs, scientists have discovered a healthy, sprawling coral reef hidden deep under the sea.
“This newly discovered reef is potentially an area of global significance,” Michelle Taylor of the University of Essex, co-lead of the expedition, said in a statement. It is “a site we can monitor over time to see how a pristine habitat evolves with our current climate crisis.”
More than 1,300 feet underwater, the reef extends for several miles along the ridge of a previously uncharted volcano in the Galápagos Marine Reserve. “The reef is pristine and teeming with life — pink octopus, batfish, squat lobsters, and an array of deep-sea fish, sharks, and rays,” Williams said.
Prior to the expedition, scientists thought reefs were all but gone from the Galápagos. From 1982 to 1983, a period of ocean warming wiped out more than 95 percent of the corals in the archipelago, leaving behind just a few reefs in shallow waters. The newly discovered reefs, sheltered deep under the sea, would have been protected from the deadly heat. Scientists say these reefs have likely existed for centuries, supporting a rich diversity of marine life.
“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,” said Stuart Banks of the Charles Darwin Foundation. “It’s very likely there are more reef structures across different depths waiting to be explored.”