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Scientists discovered a deep-sea coral reef off the US East Coast



deep sea coral
collects a sample of Lophelia pertusa from an extensive mound of
both dead and live coral.

Hole Oceanographic Institution

  • Scientists working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
    Administration (NOAA) recently discovered a previously
    unknown coral
     off the US East Coast.
  • The 85-mile-long deep-sea reef is located approximately
    160 miles east of Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Previous research pointed to the existence of the reef, but
    it had never been seen firsthand until last month.

The seafloor is one of the last unexplored regions of our watery

On a recent expedition dubbed
Deep Search 2018
, a group of ocean researchers discovered 85
miles of deep-sea coral reef off the coast of the southeastern

“Good news is too rare these days, and this is a victory
that we can all share. We have found a pristine coral reef in our
own backyard,” Erik Cordes, the chief scientist on the expedition
and a deep-sea ecologist at Temple University,
wrote in a mission summary

Deep Search 2018, which took place from August 19 to
September 2, was a collaborative project between the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Bureau of
Ocean Energy Management, and the US Geological Survey. The
goal of the expedition was to research — and safeguard — the
little-understood habitats lurking off the US’s populated East

To collect new information about these
deep-water habitats, scientists used a research ship called
Atlantis from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“We completed 11 dives in the human occupied vehicle (HOV)
Alvin in the turbid parts of canyons, stunning cliff faces,
bubbling gas seeps, and massive deep-sea coral reefs,” Cordes
wrote. “The information we have gathered will help us to
understand these habitats and their dynamics.”

Human Occupied Vehicle Alvin
Occupied Vehicle Alvin, which is operated by Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution, has been in operation since

Image courtesy of Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution/NOAA

But by far the biggest outcome of the mission, he said, was
the discovery of the previously unknown

Cordes and expedition members first
spotted the reef during an eight-hour dive on August 23. Cameras
on the submersible Alvin captured live corals perched on large
mounds of dead corals, indicating that this community has been
thriving for centuries.

The 85-mile reef is located off the coast of Georgia and
South Carolina, approximately 160 miles east of Charleston. The
corals were mostly Lophelia, a variety of deep-sea
corals that grow in cold, Atlantic waters. Along with
Lophelia, the team brought back samples of other coral
varieties as well, including octocorals. 

“Many members of the Deep Search team will spend the coming
months and years fully characterizing the significance of our
August 23 dive, which revealed extensive, previously
unconfirmed Lophelia reefs,” the researchers
wrote in a
blog post
 following the discovery. 

Scientists knew from past research carried out by NOAA that
deep-sea coral mounds existed in these waters, but they had never
viewed the reefs firsthand. 

Deep Search 2018 deep sea coral
Lophelia pertusa reefs were found in a region further offshore
and in deeper water than other known Lophelia reefs in the US

Courtesy of Dan Fornari,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Deep Search team created a three-minute time-lapse
video of the eight-hour dive in which they discovered the coral
reef. You
can watch the footage here

Researchers will use the samples they collected to better
understand these teeming deep-sea communities. Cordes
told HuffPost
the reef provides important habitat for a
number of fish and coral species. 

But President Donald Trump’s Administration has proposed rolling
back bans on offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic, which could
potentially impact this reef, according to a report
from The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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