In a ground-breaking discovery, scientists from the Galápagos Deep 2023 expedition have documented extensive, ancient deep-sea coral reefs within the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR).
The first reef, which supports a breath-taking mix of deepwater marine life, was observed was found at 400-600m depth at the summit of a previously unmapped seamount in the central part of the archipelago. The impressive reef structure, which crests the ridge of a submerged volcano and stretches for several kilometres, was first recorded by Dr. Michelle Taylor (University of Essex, UK) and Dr. Stuart Banks (Charles Darwin Foundation, Ecuador) while diving in the deep-sea research submersible Alvin, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI, U.S.). Taylor and Banks are part of an international group of scientists onboard the US Navy-owned and WHOI-operated research vessel R/V Atlantis, that is undertaking the Galápagos Deep 2023 expedition. The expedition is led by scientists at WHOI, University of Bristol (UK), Boise State University (U.S.), and University of Essex, in collaboration with the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Charles Darwin Foundation and Ecuadorian Navy’s Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute (INOCAR).
Prior to this discovery, Wellington Reef off the coast of Darwin Island in the far north of the archipelago was thought to be among the few structural shallow coral reefs in the Galápagos Islands to have survived the 1982-83 El Niño event. The new discovery made during dives by scientists in the HOV Alvin shows that sheltered deep-water coral communities have likely persisted for centuries in the depths of the GMR, supporting rich, diverse, and potentially unique marine communities.
Dr. Banks explained, “The captivating thing about these reefs is that they are very old and essentially pristine, unlike those found in many other parts of the world’s oceans. This gives us reference points to understand their importance for marine natural biodiversity heritage, connectivity with regional MPAs, as well as their role in providing goods and services such as carbon cycling and fisheries. It also helps us reconstruct past ocean environments to understand modern climate change.” Dr. Taylor, co-lead of the expedition added, “They are pristine and teeming with life—pink octopus, batfish, squat lobsters and an array of deep-sea fish, sharks, and rays. These newly discovered reefs are potentially of global significance—a canary in the mine for other reefs globally—sites which we can monitor over time to see how pristine habitats evolve with our current climate crisis.”
Image: Urchin on live coral (left) with Fossil coral, the foundation of the live reef, in the background. Credit: L. Robinson (U. Bristol), D. Fornari (WHOI), M. Taylor (U. Essex), D. Wanless (Boise State U.) NSF/NERC/HOV Alvin/WHOI MISO Facility, 2023 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Provided by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution