The Galapagos Islands, which inspired British scientist Charles Darwin’s theory of species evolution in the 19th century, are known for their wide variety of giant tortoises alongside flamingos, pikemen, albatrosses and cormorants. And they never cease to amaze us …

An unexpected discovery in the waters of the Galapagos Islands ...

Ecuadorian, British and American scientists of the Galapagos Deep 2023 expedition have discovered an ancient and totally pristine coral reef. This reef measures between 400 and 600 meters below sea level, over 2 kilometers on the crest of a submerged volcano, in a marine area not yet mapped.

Composed of more than 50% of living coral, it is a discovery of new corals. Indeed, according to scientists, reefs located deep in the sea are usually composed of 10 to 20% of living corals. In addition to this, scientists assure that the corals are “pristine”, meaning that the corals remain unchanged and are in their original form.

As described by Dr. Michelle Taylor of the University of Essex, UK, “the corals are teeming with life: pink octopus, batfish, ecru lobsters and a wide variety of deep-sea fish, sharks and rays.”

“The appeal of these reefs is that they are ancient, have not been disturbed for centuries or thousands of years, and are essentially pristine, unlike those found in many other parts of the world’s oceans,” said Stuart Banks, a Charles Darwin Foundation researcher involved in the expedition. “In modern expeditions, less than 5 percent of the open water in the Marine Reserve has been explored, which means there could be more reefs like this,” he added.

The fact that this is an ancient, pristine place full of life, it will contribute to the study of the evolution of habitats that have no human intervention in global climate change. Indeed, as Jennifer Suarez, responsible for the monitoring of marine ecosystems in the Galapagos National Park, states: “[This discovery] allows us to know more about these unknown habitats.”

José Dávalos, the Minister of the Environment announced on Monday April 10 on Twitter: this is “a rare discovery in deep water” since scientists thought that the only reef still alive was the Wellington reef, following the El Nino events of 1982.

... possible thanks to advanced technology …

“As we all know, it’s very difficult to get information at depths greater than 40, 50 or 60 meters,” says Jennifer Suarez. With these tools or this technological equipment, we will be able to access that information.”.

Indeed, this discovery, during the scientific expedition Galapagos Deep 2023, was possible thanks to the use of the Alvin, a deep water submersible research vehicle that can descend to 3000 meters and explore unknown areas. During 22 days, the expedition was led by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, University of Bristol, Boise State University and Essex University, in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Authority, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute of the Ecuadorian Navy (INOCAR). Completed since last April 21, the objectives were:

  • “Improve the understanding of the biodiversity and geology of the deep waters in Galapagos, building on previous expeditions to the region;
  • Analyze fossil corals to help reconstruct past climates, as a means of predicting future climate change trends;
  • Deepen our understanding of deep-sea organisms such as cold-water corals, their genetic relationships and species evolution;
  • Better understand how submerged islands, seamounts, and underwater ridges formed in Galapagos.” (Galapagos Deep 2023).

... that will help preserve the environment.

In 2022, Ecuador expanded the Galapagos Marine Reserve by 60,000 square kilometers to the existing 13,8000 square kilometers. The purpose of this expansion was to protect endangered migratory species from the Ecuadorian islands and Coco Island in Costa Rica.

This discovery shows that coral communities can survive for centuries in the depths of the Galapagos and demonstrates the need for these marine protected areas. These have allowed rich and unique marine populations to persist for centuries. This has the prospect of establishing new marine protected areas, taking “management measures to conserve these ecosystems that support life in the sea” in Ecuador and contributing to the creation of new areas like this one in the tropical eastern Pacific region, announced researcher Jenifer Suarez.

As the Ecuadorian Minister of the Environment explains: “The unexplored wealth of the deep ocean is one more reason to strive to achieve the commitments of the Global Ocean Partnership -30/30, whose goal is that at least 30% of the world’s oceans be declared Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030, allowing for sustainable economic activities aligned with conservation.”.

Thus, despite the impact that humans have had on the seas and oceans since the industrial era, this discovery shows that there is still hope to find natural wonders intact in the seabed and proves that Marine Protected Areas must be developed again and again in order to guarantee the survival of living marine areas.