Scientists have discovered a huge coral reef system which habituates deep sea, off the coast of South Carolina in the US. Surprisingly, the discovery comes at a time when the US government is considering to lift the ban on offshore drilling.
This discovery is widely welcomed since not much is known of the natural resources in the deep ocean of the territory -- from Virginia to Georgia, off the US' south-east coast. The discovery comes as a part of the Deep Search 2018 project undertaken to learn the deep-sea ecosystem.
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the US Geological Survey have teamed up for this project, that nears its 15-day voyage on the board of the research vessel Atlantis. A pair of dives in a submersible called Alvin which is owned by the United States Navy, confirmed the existence of the coral reef and based on observations, researchers estimate the reef to be at least 85 miles long.
"This is a huge feature," said Erik Cordes, the expedition's chief scientist. "It's incredible that it stayed hidden off the US East Coast for so long." Cordes said the ecosystem is unlike anything he has seen, with "mountains" of corals.
Sandra Brooke, a coral ecologist among the research team members who dived near the site, described seeing the white Lophelia coral, covering the sea floor in every direction, and said it was a surprise to find such huge live deep-sea coral reef far from the coast.
This discovery comes at a time as the US President Donald Trump plans to take off the ban from offshore drilling, which would have the drilling industry in Atlantic waters up and running again. Cordes spoke of the importance of protecting the reefs from oil and gas development as there is much to learn from these reefs and it also supports the regional fishing culture.
More than 140 municipalities have been involved in public opposition of activities that involve offshore drilling in the Atlantic, as per Oceana, an environmental group.
According to CNN, a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokeswoman said these researches are funded to identify resources that may need to be protected before any companies can engage in energy activities off the coast, such as drilling.
The new information from studying reefs "could be useful in pre-leasing or post-leasing (oil and gas) decisions, such as those affecting sensitive habitats that are the focus of this study."
In May, scientists were astonished to find the vibrant alien world of bamboo corals about 7,500 feet down in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bamboo corals (family Isididae) are collections of tiny organisms called polyps and they eat by filtering even smaller organisms like plankton. The skeleton of a bamboo coral resembles tree-like branches and are made of calcium carbonate.
Scientists believe that the corals are hundreds or even thousands of years old. In a video shared by NOAA, the marine invertebrates are seen facing the current to maximize their chances of filtering other tiny organisms. Corals (both deep sea and their shallow-water counterparts) need enough food to be available in their surroundings in order to live.
Check out a video from the deep sea: