How do you miss something that’s over 600-miles long and covers 3,600 sq mile (9,300 sq km)? The answer lies in the murky waters at the mouth of the Amazon River where oceanographers were stunned to find a massive coral reef growing where coral reefs – massive or otherwise – weren’t thought to be able to survive.
… it’s kind of dark, it’s muddy—it’s the Amazon River.
Patricia Yager, professor of oceanography and climate change at the University of Georgia, was studying the river’s dark, muddy plume (outflow) to determine how it impacts the abortion of carbon dioxide by the Atlantic. Rodrigo Moura, a fellow scientist on their oceanographic research vessel, the RV Atlantis, mentioned a 40-year-old study of the area that actually found reef-dwelling fish in the area and they took advantage of their modern equipment to take another look.
I was flabbergasted, as were the rest of the 30 oceanographers.
What Yager and the crew found, detailed in their study in Science Advances, when they pulled up their dredge was corals plus 60 species of sponges, 73 species of fish, spiny lobsters, stars and other reef-loving creatures. Sonar showed a 600-milie long reef from French Guiana to Brazil’s Maranhão state a depths between 30 and 120 meters (100 to 400 feet).
Why was it never found before? For one thing, corals prefer clean, clear saltwater, whereas the mouths of most rivers are mixed with freshwater and loaded with sediment. The Amazon is the king of this condition. Also, most reefs are close to the surface in shallow waters while these are fairly deep. Yet, beyond the immediate mouth of the Amazon, Yager reports seeing colorful corals similar to those growing in more traditional locations.
Is it time to book a coral-watching snorkeling or scuba trip to the Amazon? Sadly, no. The reason can be summed up in three letters: O-I-L. The Brazilian government has already sold sections of the reef–growing area to oil companies, exploration and drilling has already begun and 20 sites – some directly on top of the coral – are producing oil.
What are the chances that the drilling and oil production will cease? What are the odds that the oil companies knew about the coral and didn’t tell anyone? Would they stop if this was in the Great Barrier Reef or on land where everyone could see the killing of these organisms that are so crucial to the health of our oceans?
A new coral reef is discovered where it shouldn’t be, growing where it shouldn’t grow, and it’s already dying due to humans. What is the right thing to do?