Everything that we know about coral reefs, thus far, points to the fact that a vibrant coral reef system existing in the muddy Amazon River should not exist. These conditions would be considered very undesirable for coral let alone a large reef system. The Amazon river is thick full of runoff and sediment, more so than any other river around the world. Unlike a typical tropical coral reef system, the majority of this Amazon system exists where there is no light, which means no photosynthesis, and also extremely low amounts of oxygen are found. Co-Author of the new study publishing the findings of the new coral reef system Fabiano Thompson, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, says it best when he states, “We found a reef where the textbooks said there shouldn’t be one”.

Yet, new photos as well as a new study published in the journal Science have surfaced showing the reef that runs from French Guyana to the Brazilian state of Maranhao where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

The massive coral reef system was discovered last year. It is 3,600 square miles and 620 miles long tip to tip busting with diverse species of corals, sponges, rhodoliths, and 73 species of fish. It was extremely surprising for scientists to find this hidden gem ranging from about 82 to 393 feet below the surface of the water. The discovery, made in April 2016, came as a shock to scientists and definitely brought many questions about what we think we know about coral reefs to light.

 

To help document the amazing discovery, skeptical oceanographer Patrcia Yager and colleague Rodrigo Moura of the Federal Univeristy of Rio de Janerio made their way to the Amazon Reef. “We brought up the most amazing animals I’ve ever seen on an expedition like this. All the scientists just hung over the rails amazed at what we were finding,” said Yager.

However the scientists have not had the opportunity to dive down to see the reef itself yet. The water is very murky, thick with runoff and sediment, and the currents and rough seas in the region make it extremely dangerous even deadly.

Protecting this new discovery

Like any natural wonder, the newly discovered Amazon Reef is under siege from oil drilling companies looking to obtain permits from the Brazilian government. If the permits are granted, the oil drilling undoubtedly will have huge repercussions on the coral reef system and very possibly wipe it out completely. Whenever oil drilling occurs there is the constant worry of a oil spill and no matter how small oil is extremely destructive to the delicate ecosystems surrounding the area.

For obvious reasons this reef is extremely important. Researcher Nils Asp, from the Federal University of Para addresses the issue, “This reef system is important for many reasons, including the fact that it has unique characteristics regarding use and availability of light and physicochemical water conditions. It has a huge potential for new species, and it is also important for the economic well-being of fishing communities along the Amazonian coastal zone”.

Campaigner Thiago Almeida also adds to the issue pointing out that environmental licensing processes for oil exploration there are already under way. In fact 95 wells have already been drilled in the area. Of that 95, 27 have already been abandoned due to mechanical incidents. Almeida stated, “The Cape Orange National Park, the northernmost point of the Brazilian state of Amapa, is home to the world’s largest continuous mangrove ecosystem and there is no technology capable of cleaning up oil in a place of its characteristic. In addition, the risks in this area are increased due to the strong currents and sediment that the Amazon River carries”.

More to come

As of late, a mere 5% of the new coral reef system has been mapped while mapping the whole system is the scientist ultimate goal. There is so much to learn according to Asp, “”Our team wants to have a better understanding of how this ecosystem works, including important questions like its photosynthesis mechanisms with very limited light.”

References and photos courtesy of:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38789009

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/220416-Amazon-coral-reef-Brazil-ocean-river-fish/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/30/first-images-unique-brazilian-coral-reef-mouth-amazon