First Photos of New Amazon Coral Reef System Released

The reef was found in an unlikely place after scientists chased a rumor that it might exist.

The first images of a vibrant coral reef discovered in the Amazon last year have been released.

Environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace released the images, which were taken from a submarine that was launched by one of Greenpeace’s ships, according to the Guardian.

Scientists first stumbled upon the reef during a research expedition in 2012 while chasing a rumor of the reef’s existence, and they later announced the reef’s discovery in a study published in April 2016. Given the region’s murky waters, they were surprised to find one at all in that location.

"We found a reef where the textbooks said there shouldn't be one," study co-author Fabiano Thompson of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro told National Geographic last spring.

The reef is between 164 and 328 feet (50 and 100 meters) deep, and South American researchers who mapped it from the surface estimate that it covers about 3,668 square miles (9,500 square kilometers). Photographing the reef under the surface proved difficult because murky waters, strong currents, and rough seas create exploring conditions that could be difficult or deadly.

Researchers found many species of fish, stars, and sponges in the region as they worked to drudge up reef materials over a period of several years, Nat Geo reported. Most of the fish species are carnivorous, and one giant sponge extracted from the region was as heavy as a baby elephant.

The reef is already threatened. The BBC reports that licensing processes for oil exploration in the area are already happening. Citing the constant risk of an oil spill as one possible environmental repercussion if drilling happens there, Greenpeace has started a campaign to protect the reef.

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