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Huge Coral Reef Discovered at Mouth of Amazon River Stretching 600 Miles

22 Apr 2016, 3:28 pm

amazon The novel reef system off the Amazon River is extensive, is impoverished in terms of biodiversity, and presents unique functional attributes due to the plume influence, according to Science Advances Magazine.

The system provides relevant ecosystem services and functions as a selective biogeographic corridor between the Caribbean and the South Atlantic Ocean, and may give important insights in terms of future scenarios for forecasting coralline reefs trajectories under acute climate changes. Remarkably, 125 exploratory blocks for oil drilling in the Amazon shelf were offered in an international auction in 2013, 35 of which were acquired by domestic and transnational companies. 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. These blocks will soon be producing oil in close proximity to the reefs, but the environmental baseline compiled by the companies and the Brazilian government is still incipient and largely based on sparse museum specimens.

(Image: Map of the Amazon shelf showing the benthic megahabitats and seasonal influence of the river plume. (A) Distribution of reef fisheries and oceanographic stations. Manuel Luis reefs are the northernmost emerging reefs in Brazil. (B to D) Main structural and functional traits of the reefs in the Northern (120 m), Central (55 m), and Southern Sectors (25 m), respectively.  Some graphic elements are courtesy of the Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The plume lines represent the outer edge of the plume during that season, according to satellite climatology (80)
(Image: Map of the Amazon shelf showing the benthic megahabitats and seasonal influence of the river plume. (A) Distribution of reef fisheries and oceanographic stations. Manuel Luis reefs are the northernmost emerging reefs in Brazil. (B to D) Main structural and functional traits of the reefs in the Northern (120 m), Central (55 m), and Southern Sectors (25 m), respectively. Some graphic elements are courtesy of the Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The plume lines represent the outer edge of the plume during that season, according to satellite climatology)

Such large-scale industrial activities present a major environmental challenge, and companies should catalyze a more complete social-ecological assessment of the system before impacts become extensive and conflicts among the stakeholders escalate. The feasibility of oil and gas operations may be assessed by considering environmental and social sensibilities, but even the extent of the overlap of exploratory blocks with sensitive areas remains unclear. The context of great proximity to international waters and to the French border adds complexity. It is relevant to consider further studies on regional marine spatial planning, the functioning of the new reef biome in face of global changes, and sensitivities related to the hydrologic cycle of the Amazon—where extreme droughts and floods are on the increase and will influence the functioning of this novel carbonate reef system.

Headline Image: The mouth of the Amazon river. Image: Wikimedia

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