World’s largest deep sea coral reef

News Excerpt: 

Recently, Scientists have mapped the largest-known deep-sea coral reef, which is located off the Atlantic coast of the United States.

Key findings of the discovery: 

  • The newly discovered reef is around 310 miles (500 km) long, extending from Florida to South Carolina. In some places, it is as wide as 68 miles (110 km).
  • The reef was discovered at depths where sunlight cannot reach, between 200 and 1000  meters. 
  • At this depth, the coral must filter food particles out of the water in order to get energy, unlike tropical coral reefs where photosynthesis is crucial for growth.
  • These deep corals provide shelter to a variety of fish species including swordfish, octopuses, shrimp, sea stars, and sharks.

Role of Technology in the Discovery:

  • While the existence of this reef has been known to scientists since the 1960s, there was no technology to get a clear picture of its dimensions till now.
  • Underwater mapping is a new technology that has helped construct the ocean floor’s 3D images.
  • Shipboard sonar equipment with high resolution is used to map the ocean floor. 

Challenges:

  • Climate change and disturbance from oil and gas production pose threats to both types of habitat.

About the Coral Reefs

  • Often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs support approximately 25 percent of all known marine species. 
  • Reefs provide homes for more than 4,000 species of fish, 700 species of coral, and thousands of other plants and animals.
  • The architects of coral reefs are hard corals. Unlike soft corals, hard corals have stony skeletons made out of limestone that is produced by coral polyps. 
    • When polyps die, their skeletons are left behind and used as foundations for new polyps. 
  • An actual coral branch or mound is composed of layer upon layer of skeletons covered by a thin layer of living polyps.
  • If a coral reef is likened to a bustling city, then a coral colony is like a single apartment building with many rooms and hallways that house different marine species.
  • The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the biggest tropical coral reef system in the world, spanning around 1,430 miles (2,300 km).

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