Sometimes you find things where you least expect them. Coral reefs typically grow in clear, sunlit, salty waters. The Amazon river has some of the murkiest waters on earth and yet that’s exactly where scientists discovered a reef system that stretches for more than 600 miles, according to The Huffington Post on April 23.
It all started with a hunch. A team of scientists was exploring the Amazon River to find out how Amazonian plume affects the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide. Searching for a coral reef wasn’t on the agenda, but one Brazilian scientist, Rodrigo Moura, said he had a hunch and wanted to take advantage of their time by searching for a reef. The other scientists thought it was something of a joke to think a coral reef could exist in such muddy waters.
“I kind of chuckled when Rodrigo first approached me about looking for reefs. I mean, it’s kind of dark, it’s muddy—it’s the Amazon River,” Patricia Yager leader of the expedition told The Atlantic. “But he pulls out this paper from 1977, saying these researchers had managed to catch a few fish that would indicate reefs are there. He said, ‘Let’s see if we can find these.”
Time on the expedition was tight, but when the team had a little bit of extra time on their hands they took the opportunity to lower a dredge into the water in an area where they thought the reef might be hidden. When the dredge actually came out with coral, fish and other indicators of a vast reef, everyone was shocked. Rodrigo was right.
Further exploration led them to discover a very diverse ecosystem that varied depending on its location. The southern section of the reef, which is covered by Amazon plume three months out of the year, has a lot of the colorful life one would expect to find in a coral reef. That section allows enough sunlight within the year for the organisms to complete photosynthesis. The northern section, which is murky for more than six months out of the year, is not as colorful and diverse and is filled with more coral and predatory fish. In total researchers have discovered more than 70 different species of fish that inhabit the reef. Unfortunately, given the river’s strong currents and murky waters, researchers have yet been able to dive down and explore the reef with their own eyes.
The reef is an incredible find, but one that is already in danger. Climate change has bleached most of the Great Barrier Reef. This new reef doesn’t just face climate change, but threats from oil companies that are already extracting within the area. Many scientists are calling on governments to act quickly to curb climate change and hopefully save the reefs, but the sad reality is it may already be too late.