PICTURED: Alexis Rosenfeld photographs deep-water corals off Tahiti. PC: UNESCO/Alexis Rosenfeld/1 Ocean ©. Released.
A field of rose shaped corals as far as the eye can see lie still in the mild umbrage 200 feet down off the coast of Tahiti in French Polynesia.
It’s one of the largest coral reefs known to science, and is in totally pristine condition. Some of the giant rosy corals are 6 feet in diameter, and the reef itself is 2 miles long.
A highly-unusual find, the reef is located in the mesophotic zone, which is the limit at which sunlight can penetrate the ocean—between 120 and 230 feet below the surface, and 40 to 150-feet below most of the world’s coral reefs. Scientists at UNESCO, the organization that sponsored the dive which mapped it, suspect it is the depth which accounts for its undisturbed nature, as it’s too far down for most human activities or for bleaching events to reach.
“French Polynesia suffered a significant bleaching event back in 2019 however this reef does not appear to have been significantly affected,” states Laetitia Hédouin, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Moorea, French Polynesia. “The discovery of this reef in such a pristine condition is good news and can inspire future conservation. We think that deeper reefs may be better protected from global warming.”
Exploring at such depths posed unique challenges for divers, as with every additional foot they travel, the time they can remain lessens. The reef was discovered last year in November, and the team used special equipment to conduct 200 hours of dive research which included taking photographs and samples of the reef.
“It was magical to witness giant, beautiful rose corals which stretch for as far as the eye can see. It was like a work of art,” said Alexis Rosenfeld, chief of the 1 Ocean campaign from UNESCO.
“We’ll be seeing more of these discoveries as the technology is applied to these locations,” former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer Mark Eakin, told AP. “We may find some bigger ones somewhere, but I think this is always going to be an unusual reef.”