Examining underwater cliff ecosystems within the Galápagos Islands Marine Reserve using the 4,500 meter robot, ROV SuBastian, a team of scientists have discovered two pristine coral reefs. These newly identified cold-water reefs are situated at depths ranging from 370 to 420 metres.
Conducted from the Research Vessel Falkor (too), the 30-day expedition began on 18 September 2023 and was led by Dr. Katleen Robert of the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. The expedition also included 24 participating scientists representing 13 organisations and universities including the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), the Ecuadorian Navy’s Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute (INOCAR), National Geographic Society, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), University of Bristol, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), University of Costa Rica, the UK National Oceanography Centre, Institut de Ciencies del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, and the University of East Anglia-UK.
The larger of the two reefs spans over 800 metres in length, the equivalent of eight football fields while the second, smaller reef measures 250 metres in length. Both exhibit a rich diversity of stony coral species, suggesting that they have likely been forming and supporting marine biodiversity for thousands of years. On one of the ROV dives, the researchers observed multiple deep-sea coral species laden with eggs.
“What we saw may very well be just the tip of the iceberg,” said marine biologist and deep-sea ecologist Tim Shank. “There could easily be more reef habitat on the seafloor off the Galápagos than the 800-metre feature we found. It speaks to the need for more work to be done to fully map and understand the importance of special this place.”
[image: An area of biodiversity (including corals, crustaceans, urchins, anemones, and more) on Cacho De Coral, a newly discovered pristine coral reef. The dive investigated the volcanic plug of the caldera, then transited over steep terrain to examine the extent of the reef and the corals that live there. Dive 577 was at to Cacho De Coral in the Galápagos Marine Reserve, a pristine coral reef newly discovered by R/V Atlantis and HOV Alvin. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute]