Scientists from Brazil and the United States have discovered a massive coral reef in the Amazon river that stretches for more than 600 miles, a surprising finding due to the fact that such marine structures thrive only in salty ocean and sea waters with access to sunlight.
The findings were published in the journal Science Advances on Friday and revealed that the reef spans from the southern tip of French Guiana to Brazil’s Maranhao State.
These waters are fresh and a among the muddiest in the world, which prevents species from receiving sunlight. Fresh water and lack of sunlight usually prevents corals from thriving.
The researchers found over 73 species of fish, spiny lobsters, stars, 60 species of sponges and a variety of other marine life, including a rare red algae, according to the report in Science Advanceson. The coral reef ranges from about 30-120m deep.
"The paper is not just about the reef itself, but about how the reef community changes as you travel north along the shelf break, in response to how much light it gets seasonally by the movement of the plume," Patricia Yager, an associate professor of marine sciences in University of Georgia's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator of the River-Ocean Continuum of the Amazon project, said in a statement.
Yager spent two months in Brazil as a Science Without Borders visiting professor. She warned the reefs may be under threat by several factors including oil exploration in the region.
"In the past decade, a total of 80 exploratory blocks have been acquired for oil drilling in the study region, 20 of which are already producing," the report said.
"[They will] soon be producing oil in close proximity to the reefs, and such large-scale industrial activities present a major environmental challenge."
Coral reefs are among the most impacted species by global warming and climate change due to changes in ocean temperatures, light, and nutrition.
These changes result in what is known as coral bleaching, which sees the corals turning white a a result if warm temperatures.
According to the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Coral bleaching is considered "the most widespread and conspicuous impact of climate change."
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