Enlarge image

Imaging the seafloor: Ten years of systematic mapping

Photo: NOAA Ocean Exploration

The reef extends from Miami in the southeast of the country to the city of Charleston in the state of South Carolina, almost 800 kilometers further north: One of the world's largest cold-water coral reefs has been discovered off the east coast of the USA, according to a statement from the American Meteorological Agency. and Oceanographic Authority NOAA.

The reef has an area of ​​almost 25,900 square kilometers - about the size of the US state of Florida and slightly larger than Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

It is said to be one of the largest deep-sea coral reefs ever discovered in the world.

In previous studies of the area, coral hills had already been found near the coast and in shallower waters.

But only after the so-called Blake Plateau has been completely mapped at a depth of 500 to 1000 meters will it be known "how extensive this habitat is and how many of these coral hills are connected to each other."

Growth without sunlight

The discovery was preceded by ten years of systematic mapping of the area and more than 20 exploratory dives.

The results of the research project, in which NOAA and other US authorities were involved, were published on January 12th in the specialist journal “Geomatics”.

According to the researchers, cold-water corals grow at temperatures between 4 and 14 degrees in the deep sea, where no sunlight reaches.

The so-called cnidarians feed on suspended matter in the water.

So far, cold-water coral reefs have been discovered off the coasts of at least 41 countries, the study said.

Scientists assumed it would be even more widespread, but most of the deep sea had not yet been explored and mapped.

The reefs at depth are said to grow slowly and are therefore vulnerable to physical damage from human activities.

The greatest threats to cold-water corals include fishing with bottom trawling nets, the extraction of raw materials from the deep sea and the laying of underwater cables and pipelines.