New reefs and seamounts discovered in Galápagos

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Deep-sea, cold-water coral captured by ROV SuBastian (Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

Scientists create detailed, high-resolution maps of newly discovered deep coral reefs in the Galápagos Marine Reserve

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Scientists at the Schmidt Ocean Institute have announced the discovery of two new pristine cold-water reefs and two previously unknown seamounts in the waters of the Galápagos Islands.


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The new discoveries were made during an expedition in September and October 2023 on board the research vessel Falkor (also)using its ROV with a range of 4,500 meters SuBastiaan.

Led by Dr. Katleen Robert of the Fisheries and Marine Institute at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, and involving 24 scientists from 13 different research institutions, the team also explored parts of Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park.

deep sea coral community Galapagos
Healthy coral colonies highlight the region’s biodiversity (Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

The newly discovered deep reefs of the Galápagos are located between depths ranging from 370 to 420 meters; the larger of the two is over 800 meters long, while the second, smaller reef is approximately 250 meters long. According to the Schmidt researchers, both “contain a rich diversity of stony coral species, indicating that they have likely shaped and supported marine biodiversity for thousands of years.”

The latest findings follow the discovery of the first deep coral reefs documented in the Galápagos Marine Reserve in April 2023 by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Schmidt Institute expedition used high-resolution laser scanning technology to create maps of the reefs that are so detailed that they can show individual animals that inhabit the reef, rather than just the basic topography. The same technology was used to create high-resolution maps of the previously unmapped seamounts.

High-resolution imaging creates detailed maps of the ocean floor (Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute)
The laser images are so detailed that individual fish can be captured (Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

“This information is not only valuable from a scientific perspective, but also provides a solid basis for decision-making that effectively protects these ecosystems, safeguards the biological diversity they harbor and ensures their resilience in a constantly changing environment,” said Danny Rueda Córdova, director of the Galápagos National Park Directorate.

‘The geological dynamics of the region play a fundamental role in deep-sea ecosystems. Research and mapping are essential tools to ensure that the Galápagos remain an iconic example of the beauty and importance of nature.”

It is hoped that newly discovered insights into coral biodiversity in the Galápagos, coupled with new observations of seamounts southwest of Cocos Island, will help build connections between the two regions’ coral reefs.

A strawberry squid filmed during the expedition (Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

Understanding how the interaction between the Galápagos and Cocos marine parks affects regional biodiversity will help authorities plan and manage the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, a network of interconnected marine reserves linking Ecuador, Costa Rica , Panama and Colombia.

“We are pleased that our mapping data can improve our understanding of reef ecosystems in the Galápagos,” says expedition leader Dr. Katleen Robert. “The interdisciplinary science team is excited that the data collected during this expedition will contribute to the growing knowledge of the Galápagos National Marine Reserve and contribute to the management of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor.”

Mark 'Crowley' Russel
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