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Scientists Just Discovered a Coral Reef Off the Coast of South Carolina

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Human activity, particularly the production of natural gas and oil, poses a serious threat to marine ecosystems. Projects like Deep Search help identify and protect sensitive underwater habitats. Join us in taking action on this issue here.

Scientists just discovered a giant coral reef off the South Carolina Coast, according to HuffPost.

During a two-week expedition on the Atlantis research vessel, scientists found an extraordinary ecosystem 160 miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. They soon speculated it was a reef located a half mile below the ocean’s surface and estimated to span at least 85 linear miles.

Take Action: Call on Governments and Business Leaders to Say No to Single-Use Plastics

Led by deep-sea ecologist Erik Cordes, researchers confirmed the existence of the Lophelia coral forest last Thursday after a set of dives. The expedition was part of an ongoing project called Deep Search, which aims to identify vulnerable ocean habitats and promote their stewardship.

Cordes said that the coral reef was like nothing he had seen before in the Atlantic.

“This is a huge feature,” Cordes told HuffPost. “It’s incredible that it stayed hidden off the US East Coast for so long.”

News of this discovery comes as the Trump administration is proposing to roll back bans on offshore drilling and open more than 40 drilling sites in waters around the US. According to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the addition of these drilling sites could increase federal revenue by $15 billion. Yet, the Trump administration’s plan fails to take into account the environmental cost of natural gas and oil production, instead focusing solely on worker safety.

Environmental organizations have voiced concerns, calling the plan “dirty and dangerous,” reports CNN.

"The administration's backward-looking approach puts oil and gas profits first — and will place our coastal communities and all they support at risk of the next BP-style disaster," said Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh, in a statement.

Numerous incidents across the globe have shown that offshore drilling is unsafe. Oil spills have wreaked havoc on ocean ecosystems and coastal communities who depend on the fishing industry for their livelihoods. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — recognized as the worst in US history — a British Petroleum pipe leaked an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days.

Read More: Scientists Are Developing Technology That Could Prevent Red Tides and Save Sea Life

Coral reefs, like rain forests, are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems. In a 2011 report, World Resources Institute (WRI) reported that seventy-five percent of the world’s coral reefs were at risk. WRI projects that this figure will extend to all coral reefs by 2050.

When oil comes into contact with coral reefs, it can kill them or affect their ability to reproduce and develop. As a result, entire underwater ecosystems suffer.

Deep Search’s discovery last week is a reminder of the incredible marine ecosystems that exist and the imminent threat that human activity poses to them.