Just off the coast of Charleston in South Carolina, scientists have discovered an incredible stretch of deep sea coral reef system.

Experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey teamed up to explore the ocean off the coast from Virginia to Georgia. The project was called Deep Search 2018 and was launched in order to learn about the ecosystem in the deep sea.

From Aug. 19 to Sept. 2, researchers will go onboard the R/V Atlantis to learn more about deepwater habitats along the mid- and south Atlantic Ocean.

The Deep Sea Coral Reefs Of Southern United States

Last week, researchers dove half a mile underwater off the coast of Charleston and found "mountains" of coral reef largely composed of Lophelia, a stony type coral that thrives in the deep sea. Based on sonar mapping of the ocean floor, researchers believe that the reef extends to at least 85 linear miles.

However, researchers did not expect to find the coral reef system in the area. Lophelia has previously been discovered off the coast of Florida to North Carolina, but its existence in the U.S. South Atlantic still came as a surprise.

The reef's presence was confirmed after researchers boarded the Alvin, a submersible, last week. When they emerged from underwater after eight hours of exploration, researchers brought back a basket of coral species including Lophelia, Enallopsa, Madrepora, and octocorals, reported NOAA.

The coral reefs create habitat for the diverse community of fishes and vertebrate of the U.S. South Atlantic. Moreover, the deepsea system also plays a part in fueling the ecosystem on the region by interacting with the fishes that migrate from the surface and recycling nutrients for organic matter falling from the shallow waters in order to provide food for its community.

"This is a huge feature," stated Erik Cordes, a scientist involved in the project. "It's incredible that it stayed hidden off the U.S. East Coast for so long."

The Existence Of Coral Reefs And Oil Drilling

However, the coral reefs in the Atlantic and the lives it supports might be in danger. President Donald J. Trump recently proposed to rescind the ban that prevents offshore drilling.

The commander-in-chief wants to open up to 90 percent of the water off the shore of the United States to oil exploration. More than 140 municipalities have publicly opposed the plan.

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