Scientists Discover Thriving Coral Reefs Under Oceanic Volcanoes

Researchers from marine life advocates Oceana have discovered a surprising new world under the sea near Sicily.


May 31 2019, Updated 12:02 p.m. ET

There are coral reefs all over the world, but a less-examined one in the Aeolians Islands, north of Sicily, has remained fairly mysterious until recently.

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According to Inhabitat, a team of researchers from Oceana, a group that researches and works to protect ocean environments, launched an examination of the area, which is located under a chain of underwater volcanoes.

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They were excited to discover rich areas of coral that were serving as a home to a number of endangered marine species. Their research robot uncovered new finds in every level of the ocean it could reach.

In the shallows, red algae beds were home to plants and animals like sea fans and horse mackerel. Deeper down, sharks were laying eggs in the coral beds. 

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The corals themselves were remarkable; they included both red and yellow tree coral, which in the Mediterranean Sea, are both threatened species.

But on the bottom of the sea floor were the most astounding finds. At a depth of 10559.4 feet, the researchers discovered a type of coral on the endangered species list called "bamboo coral."

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There were also a few species who have not been recorded before as living in the area, such as carnivorous sea sponges and sea squirts, as well as a sea star known as Zoroaster fulgens and a fish known for living in the nearby Adriatic Sea called a Goby fish.

This underwater paradise isn't completely removed from human influence. The robot also found evidence of pollution caused by fishing. Objects like abandoned traps, old nets, and fishing lines were abundant.

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They also spotted dead marine life, including turtles and coral, who were harmed by this detritus. There was also the usual array of single-use plastic waste littering the ocean floor.

In a statement, the senior research director for Oceania, Ricardo Aguilar, said the discovery of this secret world means an obligation to do everything they can to save it.

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“We have found tens of features that are internationally protected in the Mediterranean, from impressive coralligenous beds to loggerhead turtles and many species of corals and molluscs,” he said.  

“However, we also found widespread impacts of human activity, even in the farthest and deepest areas, and it is vital that we stop harming marine life if we are to preserve the uniqueness of this part of the Tyrrhenian Sea.”

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The data and observations accrued during their exploration will help Oceana develop a plan to save the ecosystem, which is completely unique to the area. 

It is also ultimately just one leg in a much grander research expedition planned by the Blue Marine Foundation that will circumvent the marine world all around the islands. Who knows what they'll find next. 

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