Scientists discover 600 mile coral reef off the mouth of the Amazon River

Great Barrier Reef hit by coral bleaching
Great Barrier Reef hit by coral bleaching

Scientists have discovered a massive, 3,600 square foot and heretofore unknown coral reef system at the mouth of the Amazon River, reported the Guardian.

The 600-mile coral formation "ranges from about 30-120m deep and stretches from French Guiana to Brazil's Maranhão state," the paper wrote, and researchers, oil companies and governments are scrambling to explore it. According to initial results published in Science Advances the site is "impoverished" but boasts impressive biodiversity.

Scientists Discover 600 Mile Coral Reef Off the Mouth of the Amazon River
Scientists Discover 600 Mile Coral Reef Off the Mouth of the Amazon River

Source: Carlos Rezende (UENF) and Fabiano Thompson (UFRJ)/NPR

The reef system escaped detection due to the Amazon's muddy outflow, which is visible from space and clouds the waters. However, that same freshwater outflow gave life to the reef.

"Coral reefs usually don't thrive in muddy waters, like the mouth of the world's largest river, but the Amazon has a freshwater outflow," reported NPR's Catherine Osborn. "It appears to have produced a reef with over 60 species of sponges and 73 species of fish, spiny lobsters, sea stars, and other ocean life. The reef stretches from the coast of French Guiana to Brazil's Maranhão state."

29 of those sponges are suspected to be newly discovered species, reported the Smithsonian, and just 10% of the reef has been explored.

Photos of Brazil's rainforest through the years:

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However, the reef faces challenges from both long-term threats like climate change and acidification and immediate ones including oil drilling.

"We brought up the most amazing and colorful animals I had ever seen on an expedition," University of Georgia associate professor Patricia Yager told CNN.

"The Brazilian government has sold 80 blocks for oil exploration and drilling at the mouth of the Amazon and 20 of these are already producing oil -- some, it is thought, right on top of the reef," wrote the Guardian.

h/t the Guardian