The first images of a coral reef discovered at the mouth of the muddy Amazon River have emerged.
The 9,500 square kilometres system is located where the mighty Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil — an area open for oil exploration.
The sponge and coral reef was discovered last year by a team of experts, including several oceanographers, during a research expedition off the Brazilian coast.
They have joined Greenpeace to document the reef from a submarine launched from the organisation’s ship Esperanza.
Scientists were surprised to find the reef in “unfavourable conditions”, beneath a muddy plume where water flows from the Amazon River.
The riverine discharge, which generates a plume and muddy bottoms, affects a wide area of the tropical North Atlantic in terms of light penetration, sedimentation, salinity and pH, according to Science Advances — the journal that announced the discovery last year.
“This reef system is important for many reasons, including the fact that it has unique characteristics regarding use and availability of light, and physicochemical water conditions,” Nils Asp, researcher at the Federal University of Para in Brazil, said.
“At the moment, less than 5 per cent of the ecosystem is mapped,” he said.
Amazon Reef at risk of oil spill, Greenpeace says
“In the past decade, a total of 80 exploratory blocks have been acquired for oil drilling in the study region, 20 of which are already producing,” the journal article in Science Advances said.
“These blocks will soon be producing oil in close proximity to the reefs.”
Greenpeace have warned that oil companies could start drilling in the area if they obtain authorisation from the Brazil Government.
It said oil companies Total and BP were already planning to explore the area for potential drilling.
The group said that drilling in the area meant a “constant risk of an oil spill”, putting wildlife like dolphins and the river otter, and the local fishing industry in danger.