Rare coral reef discovered off Tahiti is ‘like a work of art’, says diver |

Early evidence suggests its depths protected it from bleaching due to global warming.

“It was magical to see gigantic, beautiful rose corals stretching as far as the eye can see. It was like a work of art,” said Alexis Rosenfeld, French photographer and founder of the #1Ocean campaign, who led the diving mission.

Buried baby

The reef find is highly unusual due to its deep location, as the vast majority of the world’s known coral reefs only descend to about 25 meters.

The rose-like corals are up to two meters in diameter and the reef itself is between 30 meters and 65 meters wide.

“This discovery suggests that there are many more large reefs, at depths of more than 100 feet, in what is known as the ocean’s ‘twilight zone’, which we just don’t know about,” said UNESCO, the UN science. educational and cultural organization.

UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay hailed the “incredible work” of scientists who suspected there could be a spectacular coral reef off the coast of Tahiti, noting that only 20 percent of the entire seafloor has been mapped.

“We know the surface of the moon better than the deep ocean,” she said. “This remarkable discovery in Tahiti showcases the incredible work of scientists who, with the support of UNESCO, are expanding the scope of our knowledge of what lies beneath.”

Jump in the deep

The expedition that made the discovery was part of the UNESCO Ocean Mapping Initiative.

Finding coral reefs of this size is important because they are an important food source for other organisms and as such can aid in biodiversity research.

Organisms living on reefs can also be of interest for medicinal research, while reefs can provide protection against coastal erosion and even tsunamis from a sustainability point of view.

“French Polynesia experienced a significant bleaching event in 2019, but this reef does not appear to be significantly affected,” said Dr. Laetitia Hedouin of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the environmental research body CRIOBE, who attended the mission.



© Alexis Rosenfeld

One of the largest coral reefs in the world off the coast of Tahiti, French Polynesia.

‘Beautiful condition’

“The discovery of this reef in such a pristine condition is good news and could provide inspiration for future conservation. We think deeper reefs could be better protected from global warming.”

Until now, few scientists have been able to locate, survey and study coral reefs at depths greater than 100 feet (30 meters). However, technological advancements have meant that longer dives at these depths are now possible.

In total, the team completed approximately 200 hours of dives to study the reef and spawn the coral. More dives are planned in the coming months to continue research around the reef.

Action for the ocean

UNESCO is the UN agency responsible for ocean research. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, established in 1960, involving 150 countries, coordinates global programs such as ocean mapping and a tsunamis warning system, along with numerous scientific research projects.

The agency is also the guardian of unique ocean sites, through 232 marine biosphere reserves and 50 marine world heritage sites of outstanding universal value.

UNESCO will lead the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, from 2021 to 2030, involving several major international summits this year to strengthen international cooperation and action.

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