A coral reef stretching 600 miles has been discovered at the mouth of the Amazon River. The search that found the massive gathering of coral was inspired by reports from the 1970s detailing the capture of reef fish at the Amazon plume.
The Amazon River discharges more water than any other system in the world. When large rivers send vast amounts of waters into an ocean, the process often creates a gap in any coral reef in the region. This effect makes finding this new reef even more unusual.
University of Georgia researchers, together with investigators from Brazil, set out on a search for corals near the Amazon plume. These areas are the locations where fresh water from rivers empties into the salt water of the global ocean. This discharge affects salinity, sedimentation, pH level and other characteristics of the local marine environment.
"In the far south, it gets more light exposure, so many of the animals are more typical reef corals and things that photosynthesize for food. But as you move north, many of those become less abundant, and the reef transitions to sponges and other reef builders that are likely growing on the food that the river plume delivers. So the two systems are intricately linked," Patricia Yager of the UGA said.
The coral reef at the mouth of the Amazon is large - about the same distance as driving from Dallas, Texas to St. Louis, Missouri. However, this pales in comparison to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. That network of coral is so long, the distance is equivalent to traveling between Dallas and Buffalo, New York.
This discovery is not only significant in itself, but it also goes to show how little the human race still knows about the world on which we live. Even in the space age, our planet can still offer surprises, especially under the ocean.
Despite the recent discovery of the system, the area is already in danger of being affected by human activities. Environmental issues with the coral reef includes acidification of the ocean, offshore oil drilling and warming temperatures.
The discovery of the Amazon River coral reef was profiled in the journal Science Advances.
Photo: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Flickr