UNESCO diver’s spellbinding photos of ‘valley of a thousand roses’ coral reef

Earlier this year, a UNESCO-supported research expedition discovered one of the biggest deepwater coral reefs in the world, off the coast of Tahiti.

This underwater treasure has for long been known to local fishermen, but its extent was unsuspected. 

The reef is located at depths of between 30 and 65 metres. It is approximately 3km in length and up to 65m wide, which makes it one of the most extensive healthy coral reefs on record. The giant rose-shaped corals are up to two metres in diameter, earning it the nickname ‘the valley of a thousand roses’.

The valley of a thousand roses is a rare deep reef off the coast of Tahiti

This find is highly unusual because, up to now, the vast majority of the world’s known coral reefs sit at depths of up to 25m. So this discovery suggests that there are many more large reefs out there, at depths of more than 30 metres, in what is known as the ocean’s ‘twilight zone’.

Footage of the pristine reef can be seen below:

French photographer and founder of the 1 Ocean campaign, Alexis Rosenfeld, led the diving mission that discovered this pristine expanse of rose-shaped corals.

Rosenfeld has shared more incredible images he has taken of reefs around the world, in the hope of raising public awareness of the need to preserve the ocean and protect these fragile ecosystems. Almost half of coral ecosystems have disappeared since the 1870s because of climate change, overfishing and pollution. Of those that have survived, a third are threatened with extinction.

The Mayotte Marine National Park in the Indian Ocean.
Coral trees deployed off the coast of Moorea
Coral trees deployed off the coast of Moorea.
The ‘Smoking Land’ underwater zone off the Aeolian Islands in the Mediterranean was discovered in 2018.

Only 20 per cent of the seabed has been mapped to date. UNESCO has pledged to map at least 80 per cent of the ocean floor by 2030. The deepening of our knowledge of the seabed may one day reveal the existence of other ecosystems, capable of adapting to rising ocean temperatures.

Coral Reef Tahiti credit Alexis Rosenfeld
The French explorer and photographer Alexis Rosenfeld, founder of the 1 Ocean campaign carried out in partnership with UNESCO to raise public awareness on the need to preserve the ocean

Coral reef habitat continues to be eliminated thanks to climate change and human activity, and most coral reefs are projected to experience coral bleaching at least twice per decade by the 2030s. It’s a bleak prospect, but — as Rosenfeld says in the interview below — it’s still possible to look on the bright side.

“Beautiful things are happening on Earth,” he says. “Beautiful things are happening under the sea. And perhaps, thanks to these beautiful things, we will be able to convince people [to protect it.]”

All images courtesy of Alexis Rosenfeld

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