A scientific research mission supported by @UNESCO discovered one of the largest coral reefs in the world off the coast of Tahiti.
— UN News (@UN_News_Centre) January 20, 2022
“It was magical to witness giant, beautiful rose corals which stretch for 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.
The reef find is highly unusual because of its deep location, as the vast majority of the world’s known coral reefs only descend to around 25 metres.
The rose-like corals measure up to two metres in diameter and the reef itself is between 30 metres and 65 metres wide.
“This discovery suggests that there are many more large reefs out there, at depths of more than 30 metres, in what is known as the ocean’s ‘twilight zone’, which we simply do not know about,” said UNESCO, the UN scientific, educational and cultural organisation.
Hailing the “incredible work” of scientists who suspected that there might be a spectacular coral reef off the coast of Tahiti, UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay noted that only 20 per cent of the entire seabed has been mapped.
“We know the surface of the moon better than the deep ocean,” she said. “This remarkable discovery in Tahiti demonstrates the incredible work of scientists who, with the support of UNESCO, further the extent of our knowledge about what lies beneath.”
Leap into the deep
The expedition which made the discovery was part of UNESCO’s ocean mapping initiative.
Finding coral reefs of this size is significant because they are an important food source for other organisms and as such can aid research around biodiversity.
Organisms that live on reefs can also be important for medicinal research, while from the point of view of sustainability, reefs can provide protection from coastal erosion and even tsunamis.
“French Polynesia suffered a significant bleaching event back in 2019, however this reef does not appear to have been significantly affected,” said Dr. Laetitia Hedouin from France’s National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) and the environmental research body CRIOBE, who was present on the mission.