Scientists working off the coast of Bahia state in Brazil have discovered a vast region of previously unknown coral reefs. Surprisingly, the newly discovered reefs are not located in remote waters. Instead, they are nestled up against the South Atlantic's largest known coral reef system: the Abrolhos reef system. Despite their proximity to the well-known Abrolhos reefs, the newly discovered reefs are concealed in deeper waters and are therefore quite inaccessible. Scientists relied on side scan sonar (a type of sonar frequently used to create nautical charts) to construct a map of the newfound reefs.
The research team that made the discovery of the new reefs included scientists from Conservation International, the Federal University of Espirito Santo, and Federal University of Bahia. They
The previously known Abrolhos reef system consists of a collection of coral reefs, volcanic islands, and sandy shoals that are scattered over nearly 6,000 square kilometers. The islands in the Abrolhos region are referred to as the Abrolhos Archipelago and include Santa Barbara Island, Redonda Island, Sueste Island, Siriba Island, and Guarita Island. These islands are surrounded by fringing reefs. The Abrolhos reef system also includes two archs of reefs, the Coastal Arc and the Outer Arc. The newly discovered reefs nearly double the size of the existing Abrolhos reef system.
The Abrolhos reef system is ecologically unique. It is home to a wealth of marine animals—corals, mollusks, and fish—found nowhere else in the world. The endemic coral species Mussismilia braziliensis is the main reef building coral within the Abrolhos reef system. Additionally, the structure of the Abrolhos reef is quite different from reefs found in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean. Some regions of the reef consist of large mushroom-shaped coral formations know as chapeiroes. In some areas of the Abrolhos, the tops of the chapeiroes grow together and form bank reefs that span distances of between 1 and 20 kilometers.