Wonders never seem to cease in the vast unknowable ocean. Makes sense, actually, considering its vastness. And unknowableness. But now we know just a little bit more about a piece of the ocean in our own backyard and it's kinda mindblowing.
Just 160 miles off the coast of South Carolina lies a coldwater coral reef system that nobody, save the fishes that call the place home, knew existed until recently when a submersible part of a sea floor exploration team shined its lights on this undiscovered wonderland. It's deep—some 2,600 feet below the sea surface, and beautiful.
Giant stands of Lophelia pertusa, a coral that lives in colder water, grew hundreds of feet tall and stretched for some 85 miles.
"It's very exciting as a scientist to be exploring the unknown, and scary when you're trying to manage a resource with so little information," said Erik Cordes, a researcher with the DEEP SEARCH program that was scoping the sea floor. "We have no idea what's out there."
The DEEP SEARCH team is looking primarily at the bottom of the sea off the coast of the mid-Atlantic seaboard, to discover things like, oh, say, unknown reef systems nearly 100 miles long. Part of the mission is to find these kinds of things so when drilling and resource extraction plans are unveiled, scientists will know exactly what's at stake.
In this case, the feds are considering opening parts of the Atlantic coast to drilling, and now, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which decides on whether or not to issue permits, knows that there's a fascinating ecosystem thriving down there that probably won't react too well to drilling.
Because the reef system is so deep, it's been insulated, to a degree, from pollution and damage from overfishing that have destroyed so many reefs around the world. Cordes thinks the reef is healthy and very ancient. Quite possibly hundreds of thousands of years old, in fact.
Over eons the reef has been lying down there, harboring uncountable amounts of sea life, acting as a nursery for young creatures, generally being a crucial part of the ocean fabric.
Cordes points out that we've managed to map only something like five percent of the ocean's floor, and we've only really examined about ten percent of those maps to see what's down there. Incredible to think about, really.
Anyway, this newest wonder of the Atlantic piqued our interest not because it's producing waves, but because, one, it's extraordinarily cool, and two, because, who knows how many more strange reefs are around that we've never seen. Adds a little mystery and wonder to our surf explorations. Maybe there are random reefs in places nobody's ever bothered to look, and all they need is the right swell and tide to break. Could be happening right now, with nobody around to see it.