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Italy's First Coral Reef Discovered In The Adriatic Sea

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A rare coral reef ecosystem was found beneath the coast of Puglia, Italy. The Mediterranean mesophotic coral reef thrives in low levels of light.  ( Scientific Reports )

A Mediterranean mesophotic coral reef was discovered by scientists in the Adriatic Sea near the seaside town of Monopoli, Puglia. This revelation would definitely add to Italy's rich and vibrant history.

Italy's first coral reef is at least 1.55 miles in length and could extend to the entire stretch of the region's coastline measuring 124 miles.

It has a depth of between 30 to 55 meters below the sea level and described as a mesophotic coral reef, a marine ecosystem with low levels of light.

The Adriatic Sea is the northernmost part of the Mediterranean Sea and it separates the Italian peninsula from the Balkan peninsula.

Mediterranean Mesophotic Coral Reefs

Unlike in the famous coral reef barriers found in Maldives and Australia where the symbiotic processes that create the corals are facilitated by light, the mesophotic coral reef found in Italy thrives in dim light.

Mesophotic coral reefs are considered very rare because they can survive even in a low light environment as compared to shallow water coral reefs that harvest enough sunlight to grow and survive. This low light condition gives the reef in Puglia more subtle colors than more known varieties found in the Pacific.

"Our barrier lives in dim light and therefore the madrepores constitute these imposing structures of calcium carbonate with the absence of algae," according to Giuseppe Corriero, University of Bari Aldo Moro Department of Biology director.

Corriero leads the team of researchers that made the discovery. While he studied marine biology for more than 30 years in the Maldives, he said he never thought of finding a coral reef a stone's throw away from his house.

The Regional Council and port authority offices in Puglia are planning to create a protected marine area off the coast of Monopoli following the discovery.

"The discovery represents an interesting novelty for our coast, above all because it could extend well beyond that stretch of sea, constituting a unique case in the Mediterranean," according to Giovanni Stea, Apulian councilor for the environment.

Mesophotic Zones

According to the U.S. National Ocean Service, mesophotic coral ecosystems are commonly found in tropical and subtropical regions with structural habitat composed of corals, sponges, and algae.

Advances in undersea technology, particularly in deep-diving technologies in the past decade allowed further studies of mesophotic ecosystems.

Mesophotic coral ecosystems are regarded as an extension of shallow coral ecosystems and but are distinct and in much need of protection given the widespread problem of coral reef degradation.

Coral reefs cover less than 1 percent of the world's ocean area, but these ecosystems provide a home for at least 25 percent of marine species. Because of its diversity, coral reefs are often regarded as the rainforests of the sea.

The value of coral reefs has been estimated at $30 billion and provides food, protection of shorelines, jobs based on tourism, and even medicines.

The study on the discovery of Italy's first coral reef is published in the Scientific Reports journal.

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