Washington: Scientists have discovered a giant deep-sea coral reef system off the coast of the US state of South Carolina.
Little is known about the natural resources of the deep ocean off the US’ Southeast coast from Virginia to Georgia. Deep Search 2018 was created to learn more by exploring the deep sea ecosystems, CNN reported on Tuesday.
The project, consisting of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the US Geological Survey, is nearing the end of its 15-day voyage aboard the research vessel Atlantis.
A pair of dives in a submersible called Alvin confirmed the existence of the coral reef and based on observations, researchers estimate the reef is at least 85 miles long.
“This is a huge feature,” expedition chief scientist Erik Cordes told the media on Monday.
“It’s incredible that it stayed hidden off the US East Coast for so long.”
Cordes said the ecosystem is unlike anything he has seen, with “mountains” of corals.
Sandra Brooke, a coral ecologist among the research team members who dived near the site, described seeing thriving white Lophelia coral covering the sea floor in every direction and said it was a surprise to find so much live deep-sea coral far from the coast.
Coral reefs form more easily near the surface of the water, where the sun can feed the algae.
The discovery of this reef comes as President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing to roll back a ban on offshore drilling, which would reinstate drilling leases in Pacific and Atlantic waters.
Cordes said this coral habitat must be protected from oil and gas development since the reef itself still holds many mysteries.