Researchers on board the research vessel Atlantis have discovered a never-before-seen coral reef roughly 160 miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. The spanning system stretches out across a large chunk of the Atlantic Ocean’s seafloor, and has been there for thousands — or maybe hundreds of thousands — of years. Even so, it has remained hidden from researchers until now.
Scientists first detected the reef when cameras aboard a small submersible sent out from Atlantis noted dense, cold-water coral populations on the bottom of the sea roughly 0.5 miles below the ocean surface.
Living corals cover the entire site, and many of them grow on top of the massive, skeletal remains of dead corals that have been in the region for thousands of years. “Just mountains of it,” said Erik Cordes, the chief scientists of the expedition, according to The Huffington Post. “We couldn’t find a place that didn’t have corals.”
Further exploration of the reef revealed large amounts of Lophelia pertusa, a branching, whitish coral that prefers cold waters. Unlike its tropical cousins, the species does not need symbiotic algae to survive. Rather, it uses stinging tentacles to stun and trap prey.
The coral-covered area stretches out for roughly 85 miles, and gives brand new insight into the area around it. The team will continue to monitor the region until September 2nd. They hope that study will give them a better idea of different deep-sea habitats and shed light on ecosystems near the southeastern coastal U.S. It may also reveal never-before-recorded secrets hiding deep beneath the waves.