is a flickering, bright glimmer of sky as the two-person submarine
descends beneath the muddy equatorial waters to a place no human has
ever seen – a vast, complex coral reef at the mouth of the world’s
Thirty metres under the murky plume of the sediment-heavy Amazon, the
sub enters a darker, richer world. A school of curious remora fish
approaches the two-tonne machine. Crabs and starfish loom in its eerie
lights. A metre-long amberjack swims past, then a two-metre ray.
At a depth of 80 metres, the pilot pauses to record large mounds of
coral covered in rainbow-coloured pygmy angelfish, wrasses and
parrotfish. There are sponges 30ft long.
At 120 metres the sub settles on the nearly level ocean floor in a
field of soft coral, sea whips and fans. The pilot manoeuvres its remote
cameras to within inches of the reef wall. It consists mainly of
sponges and colourful rhodolith beds – masses of coral-like red algae –
which are formed by chemical synthesis and thrive in the low light.
Most of the world’s shallow reefs are in trouble
due to bleaching, climate change and fishing, but this one is pristine.
Its wall is full of minute grooves and cracks, each hole and fissure
home to something alive. Small, brave crabs approach the sub and raise
their claws as if to defend themselves against this alien monster.
There are four Brazilian oceanographers, ecologists and marine
scientists taking turns to dive in the sub from the Greenpeace boat
Esperanza. For them, the chance to observe the reef, which they and
others discovered three years ago after dredging brought up corals, is as thrilling as winning the World Cup.
Last year, based on chemical analysis of the plume and measurements
of oxygen levels, they estimated the reef to be about 600 miles long, to
cover 3,600 square miles, and be about 30 to 120 metres deep. They
thought it was biologically relatively impoverished compared to other
equatorial reefs, but nevertheless they recorded more than 60 species of
sponge, 73 species of fish, spiny lobsters, stars and other reef life.
The Amazon reef: ‘a mega biome, a major ecological community of plants and animals with its own endemic species’.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary visitor Daryl Duda spotted this balloonfish at Pickles Reef. At night, balloonfish hunt the reef for mollusks and crustaceans. When threatened, a balloonfish can inflate its body by taking in water, making its spikes stand out defensively!
I had honestly never seen a turtle eating before. This beautiful Hawksbill Turtle uses his ‘beak’ shaped mouth to get in the crevices of the coral reef. Although it looks as though he is just eating the hard coral here! Hawksbills are unfortunately on the critically endangered list. Their greatest threat remains the harvesting of their beautiful shell for jewelry.
Far from the North Pole and only a few inches in height, Christmas tree worms are small worms that can be found on reefs in a number of your national marine sanctuaries. Brightly colored and shaped much like your favorite seasonal evergreens, these little worms use their bristle-like appendages to catch meals of phytoplankton and to breathe. While the body of the worm buries inside its host coral structure, each worm projects two tiny “trees” above the coral surface. These two little trees were spotted on the reef at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, creating their own miniature winter wonderland.