There is still so much that humans don’t know about marine life and the oceans. Human activities like carbon emissions, plastic pollution, and abuse of natural resources have disrupted the fragile ecosystems on our planet. Coral reefs are often observed as a barometer for measuring the extent of environmental damage to the world’s oceans. Curiously enough, scientists have stumbled upon a large number of thriving coral that has been hiding deep under the ocean’s depths.

One Big Blue Mystery

Despite all of humanity’s advancements in technology, knowledge about marine life at the deepest points of our ocean is still beyond our comprehension. Although water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface, more than 95% of the world’s oceans are still unmapped. Humans have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding the oceans and seas, having mapped a mere 5% of the seafloor.

Unfortunately, scientists and researchers are racing against time to catalog and monitor the health of marine life. The amount of devastation that climate change, ocean acidification, and microplastics have caused to the planet’s oceans is still being quantified. Researchers study coral as an indicator of the health of water and surrounding marine life.

Coral Life Under Threat

Seeing bleached coral that is a startling white color may be breathtakingly beautiful, but it belies the truth of coral reef death caused by ocean acidification. Around the world, coral reefs that are a support system for a myriad of undersea life have been struggling to survive the negative impact of human behavior.

Scientists have mostly studied coral that is closer to the surface and survives via a symbiotic relationship with algae. Recently, scientists on board a research vessel off of the coast of Charleston, South Carolina stumbled upon a wide swath of ancient coral at cold-water depths.

Shrouded In The Depths

As living proof that nature will adapt to survive, scientists on board the Atlantis captured footage of mountains of coral thriving atop dead coral. The coral was 0.5 miles below the surface of the ocean, and 160 miles off of Charleston, South Carolina’s coast.

Researchers believe that the cold-water coral reef has existed for millennia, and sent out a submersible vehicle for closer investigation and sample collection. One of the more prevalent types of coral that live in this long hidden reef is Lophelia pertusa. This type of coral has been discovered in deep water at the Gulf of Mexico, where it uses its tentacles to sting prey and guide them to their stomach.

Send Out The Submersible

Exploring and mapping the world’s oceans has been challenging because of cold temperatures, pressure, and technological limitations. The creation of the Alvin has aided scientists on research expeditions, allowing a team to dive up to 2.8 miles underwater for 10 hours. The Alvin uses robotic arms to obtain specimen samples, and cameras photograph and survey surroundings.

On August 23rd and 24th, scientists boarded an Alvin to collect samples of the hidden coral reef for further study. Due to climate change and the urgency to preserve life on Earth, there is an increased push to explore the deep sea for mapping and studying marine ecosystem health.

Mission To Map The Seas

Between the discoveries of coral by the crew on the Atlantis, and corals discovered by the Okeanos Explorer, there are an estimated 85 miles of thousand-year-old coral reefs under the surface. In an effort to expand human knowledge of vulnerable lifeforms and their habitats in the ocean, a collaborative project known as Deep SEARCH is being conducted.

For four and a half years, researchers will use technology to collect data about deep-sea marine life and look for any threat posed by human activities.

MORE: Another interesting link between a changing climate and coral reefs – Rising sea levels may actually help coral islands form, with one catch: the coral has to be alive.