Morning Sun

Explorers discover reef of rose-shaped corals

- By Rick Noack

French researcher­s say they have discovered one of the world’s largest healthy coral reefs, possibly paving the way for similar discoverie­s in locations that have not yet been explored, the Parisbased UNESCO agency announced Thursday.

Discovered off the coast of Tahiti, an island in the Pacific Ocean that’s attached to France, the reef has been explored since late last year and is estimated to be almost two miles long. Expedition project 1Ocean, which was involved in the exploratio­n, said the reef’s state of conservati­on is “unrivaled” at a time when global warming, pollution and overfishin­g are threatenin­g corals’ survival.

Photos released by the team showed a seabed covered with rose-shaped corals — some of them more than 6 feet in diameter.

Whereas many of the world’s explored tropical reefs are found in relatively shallow water, the Tahiti corals stunned the exploratio­n team because they live far deeper, in areas that remain largely unexplored.

“The fact that we are finding a very healthy and pristine coral reef at depths of 98 to 230 feet is quite unusual,” said UNESCO marine policy official Julian Barbière, adding that the discovery may have implicatio­ns that go beyond Tahiti.

“There could be all those reefs out there that have not been mapped or studied,” he said.

Only 20 percent of the world’s seabed has been mapped in high-resolution, he said, and UNESCO has supported efforts to study the unexplored parts.

“To date, we know the surface of the moon better than the deep ocean,” UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said in a release. The U.N. agency wants to support a series of ocean expedition­s over the course of this decade.

The expedition that led to the exploratio­n of the Tahiti reef was headed by a team of explorers that included photograph­er Alexis Rosenfeld and France’s CNRSCRIOBE research center. UNESCO supported the mission.

Barbière said the discovery could yield important lessons on how to protect coral reefs, as global warming is driving a rise in the number of havoc-wreaking bleaching events.

In 2019, coral reefs off Tahiti went through a dramatic bleaching episode, with researcher­s estimating that up to two thirds of corals were impacted within days. Corals located in shallow water were hit particular­ly hard.

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