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Thriving coral reef is newly discovered off Tahiti’s coast

A pristine coral reef has been discovered in the South Pacific Ocean. It appears to be flourishing, despite the current biodiversity crisis caused by climate change.

It’s almost Friday, so you know what that means? Time for some good news to catapult us into weekend mode.

A massive reef made up of rose shaped corals has been found off the coast of Tahiti. Researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research in French Polynesia entered the water for a November dive and were surprised to find a large and healthy ecosystem that had never been mapped before.

The coral reef stretches for more than 3 kilometres and at its widest point measures 70 metres across. It is thought to be one of the largest found at this depth.

Reefs of this size have previously only been found in shallow waters, highlighting how much we still have to discover about the ocean and corals themselves. The next step for the divers will be to identify which species are living in the surrounding area.

Coral reefs are the rainforests of the ocean. They support a quarter of all marine biodiversity, despite only covering 0.2 percent of the total seafloor.

But they’re also one of the ecosystems most threatened by climate change. Warming waters causes ocean acidification, a process that makes coral reefs expel the rich, colour-providing nutrients inside of them.

This event – called coral bleaching – means corals are unable to sustain themselves and quickly die off. The reefs will take decades, if not centuries to grow back, but only when adequate water temperatures and acidity levels are present.

With all of this in mind, the importance of protecting coral reefs is quite clear.

Already, many shallow-dwelling coral reefs are known to be under the threat of ocean acidification, so it’s important for marine biologists to study rare, newfound reefs like the one discovered near Tahiti to understand how they’ve managed to take root and stay alive.

Credit: Alex Rosenfield

Laetitia Hédouin, one of the divers on the expedition said, ‘When I went there for the first time, I thought, “Wow, we need to study that reef. There’s something special about that reef.”’

So far the researchers have completed 200 hours of diving to investigate the large blooms, taking photographs, as well as measurements and small samples of the coral.

Studying the reef has been met with some challenges, as remaining at depths of 230 feet (70 metres) can be unsafe for long periods without the right equipment. It makes sense then, that this area off Tahiti’s coast is not one that has been explored regularly by divers.

Kudos to the researchers for taking on this quest to learn more about the unknown. With only 20 percent of the Earth’s seabed currently mapped, who knows what they could find next!