An UNESCO supported research mission has discovered one of the largest coral reefs in the world off the coast of Tahiti. The pristine condition of the corals, together with the extensive area these cover makes these rose-shaped corals a highly valuable discovery.
A team of oceanography researchers have stumbled upon one of the largest coral reefs in the world on the seabed off the coast of Tahiti, the South Pacific archipelago in French Polynesia.
The rose-shaped coral reefs are in pristine condition, as if untouched by the ravages of time. Each one of the giant rose-shaped corals are up to 2 metres in diameter.
The highly unusual discovery is invaluable. And it is not news for the mainstream media.
The reef is located at depths of between 30 and 65 metres. It is approximately 3 kilometres in length and between 30 metres and 60 to 65 metres wide. The dimensions the scientists have provided makes this yet-to-be-named coral reefs one of the most extensive, healthy coral reefs on record.
“It was magical to witness giant, beautiful rose corals which stretch for as far as the eye can see. It was like a work of art,” says French photographer Alexis Rosenfeld who leads the campaign for the decade of ocean science for sustainable development.
Ocean mapping is coordinated by UNESCO’s 150-country membership intergovernmental oceanographic commission that claims to be the guardian of unique ocean places, including 232 marine biosphere reserves and 50 marine world heritage sites of outstanding universal value.
A step forward for science
This is highly unusual because, up to now, the vast majority of the world’s known coral reefs sit at depths of up to 25 metres. This discovery suggests that there are many more large reefs out there, at depths of more than 30 metres, in what is known as the ocean’s ‘twilight zone’. The world is only now begining to learn about these.
“To date, we know the surface of the moon better than the deep ocean. Only 20 per cent of the entire seabed has been mapped. This remarkable discovery in Tahiti demonstrates the incredible work of scientists who further the extent of our knowledge about what lies beneath,” says Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.
This expedition is part of UNESCO’s global approach to mapping the ocean. Coral reefs are an important food source for other organisms so locating them can aid research around biodiversity. The organisms that live on reefs can be important for medicinal research and reefs can also provide protection from coastal erosion and even tsunamis.
“French Polynesia suffered a significant bleaching event back in 2019 — however this reef does not appear to have been significantly affected,” says Dr. Laetitia Hedouin, France’s National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS).
“The discovery of this reef in such a pristine condition is good news and can inspire future conservation,” she says. “We think that deeper reefs may be better protected from global warming.”
Very few scientists have so far been able to locate, investigate and study coral reefs at depths of more than 30 metres. However, technology now means longer dives at these depths are possible. In total the team carried out dives totalling around 200 hours to study the reef and were able to witness the coral spawning. Further dives are planned in the coming months to continue investigations around the reef.