Washington, July 9 : Scientists have discovered new reef structures in Brazil, that are far more abundant in marine life than the Abrolhos Bank, which was earlier believed to be the Southern Atlantic Ocean's largest and richest reef system.
The Abrolhos Bank is considered one of the world's most important reefs because it harbors a high number of marine species found only in Brazil including species of soft corals, mollusks and fish found only in the Abrolhos shelf.
Discovered by researchers from Conservation International (CI), Federal University of Espirito Santo and Federal University of Bahia, the new reef structures doubles the size of the Abrolhos Bank.
"We had some clues from local fishermen that other reefs existed, but not at the scale of what we discovered," said Rodrigo de Moura, Conservation International Brazil marine specialist and co-author of the paper.
"It is very exciting and highly unusual to discover a reef structure this large and harboring such an abundance of fish," he added.
Researchers mapped the new reef structures in areas ranging from nine to 124 miles (15 to 200 km) off the coast and in depths ranging from 60 to 220 feet (20 to 73 meters) using a side scan sonar which produces a three-dimensional map of the marine seabed.
"Due to their relative inaccessibility and depth, the newly discovered reefs are teeming with life, in some places harboring 30 times the density of marine life than the known, shallower reefs," said Guilherme Dutra, Conservation International's director of marine programs in Brazil.
"That's the good news. The bad news is that only a small percentage of marine habitats in the Abrolhos are protected, despite mounting localized and global threats," he added.
Localized threats include over-fishing, coastal development and large scale land conversion to agriculture, shrimp farms, pollution, oil drilling and sedimentation. Global threats include climate change and ocean acidification.
The next phase of the Abrolhos project will be to study the marine life in the new reef structures.
"These studies reveal the complexity and connectivity of the reefs in the Abrolhos region and will support conservation planning," stated Dutra.