Researchers are stunned to find an extensive coral reef system in the thick and sediment-filled Amazon plume.
Where coral reefs across the globe are at risk of dying, there is still some good news. Scientists have discovered an extensive and vibrant coral reef system near the mouth of the Amazon River. It was highly unlikely to find a coral reef system in a region known as Amazon’s plume where the large river falls into the ocean.
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A team of Brazilian researchers were collecting murky water from the mouth of the Amazon River to find out how the plume affects the absorption of carbon dioxide in ocean when they came across a new sponge and coral reef system, stretching more than 3,700 square miles long from the edge of South American continental shelf to Brazil’s Maranhao state. The mouth of Amazon is thick, muddy and littered with sediments and the fact it is harboring a coral reef system is a surprise indeed.
The finding is based on more than three decades old research paper that urged ecologist Rodrigo Moura to be a part of the expedition and to looking for a reef that was long thought might be in the region.
“Our expedition into the Brazil Exclusive Economic Zone was primarily focused on sampling the mouth of the Amazon. But Dr. Moura had an article from the 1970s that mentioned catching reef fish along the continental shelf and said he wanted to try to locate these reefs.” Patricia Yager rincipal investigator of the project said.
The team of scientists was on board Brazilian navy research vessel and was looking to provide more insight into the reef community, its variation and changes and how Amazon River plume is influencing ocean’s water in terms of global carbon budget. Researchers found that muddy mouth of Amazon is not only supporting a complicated reef system but also showing a high level of biodiversity.
“We brought up the most amazing and colorful animals I had ever seen on an expedition.” Yager said.
“In the far south, it gets more light exposure, so many of the animals are more typical reef corals and things that photosynthesize for food. But as you move north, many of those become less abundant and the reef transitions to sponges and other reef builders that are likely growing on the food that the river plume delivers. So the two systems are intricately linked.”
As ocean acidification and global warming is taking a toll on coral reef systems worldwide and scientists have recently reported that almost 93% of Great Barrier Reef has now bleached, it has become even important to explore different types of reef systems and understand which systems can tolerate harsher conditions and survive in the future.
“Traditionally, our understanding of reefs has focused on tropical shallow coral reefs which harbor biodiversity that rivals tropical rainforests." Rebecca Albright, an oceanographer and coral researcher told The Atlantic.
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“More recently, we’re starting to explore and appreciate different types of reefs that exist in marginal environments. The new Amazonian reef system described in this paper is another example of a marginal reef that we didn’t previously know existed.”