They were found off the coast of Norway
In an absolute surprise discovery , researchers from the seabed survey project Mareano have discovered some 200.000 cold water coral reefs along the Norwegian coastline. Evidently, you just never know where, and how much life and beauty there is beneath the surface of our vast oceans!
We are all familiar with tropical warm water coral reef structures, but in many places around the world, cold water coral reefs can be as common and plentiful. To be honest, I myself was not aware of their existence at all, especially in such cold waters as the ones around Scandinavia! The ones that were discovered now are growing along the edge of the Norwegian continental shelf, called Eggakanten. According to the researchers involved in the discovery, there could be lots more!
“The fact that there appear to be so many corals here has surprised us.” – Terje Thorsnes, researcher at the Geological Survey of Norway
The research team discovered the coral reefs with the help of detailed depth data from the Norwegian Mapping Authority. In order to be absolutely sure, they then sent down modern underwater vehicles to confirm their findings. And even though the area in which these new reefs were found has long been subject to extensive trawling and petroleum activities, they evidently have prevailed!
But what are coral reefs doing in these ice cold waters? Well, they can actually thrive in both very cold and very deep waters. Cold water corals can be found in depths of 2,000m, in water temperatures as low as 4ºC. The largest known cold water coral reef structure can be found in exactly the same place as the newly discovered 200.000 reefs; in the Norwegian sea.
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The Sula Reef is located at a depth of approximately 300 meters and it is up to 35 meters in height. Oh, it’s also 40 km long and roughly 3 km wide. That’s one big reef! Imagine the time it must have taken to reach this impressive size, given that these types of corals only grow 5-25mm per year!
The news of this wonderful discovery not only means that there seem to be many more corals in the world than what is known to science, it also implies greater awareness. Proof of the existence of such a rich ecosystem in this, or any other area, can help improve willingness to protect and restore. It’s the best argument for future conservation efforts, ecosystem restorations and bans on destructive and invasive fishing- or energy-related activities.
The fact that damaged coral structures have the ability to regrow and recover fairly quickly also helps to get political and economic action going! It’s rather simple math; if you let them grow, they will. And in this case, they are going to! Feeling totally stoked about these good news, we went ahead and researched corals a little further for you!
What are corals?
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They are actually belonging to a rather large group of animals called Cnidaria. Apart from being simply awesome and extremely beautiful, they come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Each individual coral is called a “polyp”. Corals most commonly live in colonies of hundreds to thousands of polyps that are sharing the exact same genetic code. In order to form a colony, the original type polyp grows copies of itself. Pretty cool, isn’t it!
There are around 800 known types of hard corals, or reef building corals. These can be found all over the world; from the icy waters of Alaska to the tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea. Hard corals get their name from their durable exoskeletons, which they build by extracting calcium carbonate from the salty seawater, in order to protect their soft bodies from outer influences.
What are coral reefs?
Coral reefs are simply the sum of many coral exoskeletons, which are built progressively over many years. What’s really amazing is the fact that corals live off their ancestors’ calcium carbonate. Nourishing themselves with it, they can grow and add their own exoskeletons to the coral reef structure. As the cycle continues, the reefs grow and can become massive in size. That’s why we can there exist such immense coral reefs at the bottom of the ocean.
Interestingly, coral reefs are not only the largest living structure on earth, but they are also the only life form big enough to be visible from space.
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The largest and most popular of them is of course Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This marvelous ocean wonder consists of over 3000 connected reef systems, stretching over 1,500 miles!
According to a study by the NOAA – the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, roughly 80% of the world’s sea floors are still unmapped, unobserved and unexplored. It’s an entire world beneath our own, which is simply too vast. Image how many more coral reefs, and other life forms, there could be down there!
Why are coral reefs important?
Most of the world’s reefs have been around for thousands of years and have provided food and shelter for countless numbers of oceanic creatures. They are extremely complex and important ecosystems, due to their highly productive and diverse nature. It is estimated that roughly 25% of all the world’s marine species rely on coral reefs for food, breeding and shelter. In other words, they are the home of millions and millions of sea creatures.
The “rainforests of the sea”, as they are also referred to, also have other very important and beneficial aspects, as they:
- protects coastlines from damaging wave- and tropical storm effects
- are a source of nitrogen and other vital nutrients for oceanic food chains
- assist in carbon and nitrogen fixing
- help recycle nutrients
Even from a purely economic standpoint, coral reefs are very important. Fishing industries depend on healthy and growing reefs, as they provide the breeding grounds for so many different fish species. When it comes to fishing and diving tourism, the Great Barrier Reef is a valid example of just how valuable a coral reef can be. Every year, it generates the Australian economy with an amazing $1.5 billion. So, what are coral reefs good for? Well, for just about everything!
We are already planting trees. Now, let’s also plant corals!
The Norwegian discovery makes one thing very clear; there are plenty of corals out there. For a long time, we have neglected and damaged them. Now should be the time to make up for that. Be it in frosty Scandinavian waters or in the tropical seas of the world, corals do need our help to thrive. And we are in the position to help them as much as we can. We have the knowledge, the resources and the technology to do so.
Look at the astonishing video above and you will realize just how beautiful and worth protecting these corals are! Humanity clearly impacts our environment and climate, but that does not mean that we cannot impact it in the most of positive ways instead!
Main source of reference: As many as 200,000 coral reefs off Norway by Bård Amundsen and Nancy Bazilchuk
Feature image by NOAA Ocean Explorer, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0