Scientists Just Discovered a 310-Mile Coral Reef Corridor in the Gulf of Mexico

A taste of what the team found in the Corazones reef, which they discovered this year.
A taste of what the team found in the Corazones reef, which they discovered this year.
Photo: Courtesy of Leonardo Ortiz Lozano

In the Gulf of Mexico, scientists have found five new coral reefs forming a so-called coral reef corridor. The team of scientists from the University of Veracruz and Mexico’s National Institute of Technology announced their findings earlier this month, reminding us there’s still so much we don’t know about the underwater world.

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The five coral reefs— Corazones, Pantepec South, Piedras Altas, Los Gallos, and Camaronera—join a number of other reefs to make up the Reef Corridor of the Southwest Gulf of Mexico, which stretches from near the Tamiahua Lagoonin the state of Veracruz into the Gulf. The scientists have speculated about the existence of the corridor for years, and this discovery confirms it. This corridor stretches at least 310 miles, said Leonardo Ortiz Lozano, a researcher with the University of Veracruz who made the discovery alongside Ana Gutierrez of the National Institute of Technology.

This corridor offers incredible biological productivity for this region, Ortiz told Earther. The reefs offer habitat for a number of species, fueling an incredibly biodiverse ecosystem. The region is currently unprotected, bu the scientists who discovered the corridor want to change that before the oil and gas industry moves into this part of the Gulf. 

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More coral found in the Corazones reef.
More coral found in the Corazones reef.
Photo: Courtesy of Leonardo Ortiz Lozano

“We want the coral corridor to be officially recognized to protect it from the fossil fuel industry,” Ortiz said.

This group of researchers is now working to protect the corridor in coordination with the Mexican Center for Environmental Law. The fishing industry and sedimentation from runoff are threatening the reefs, but the ecologists are mindful about creating protections that won’t sacrifice the well-being of the fishing industry that’s built a dependence on the thriving ecosystem, which includes sponges, crustaceans, sea turtles, and sharks.

“What’s most important is that these sites are where hundreds of fishermen receive their nourishment and work,” Ortiz told Earther. “It’s important to protect these sites, but it’s necessary to maintain the fishing industry.”

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A type of coral found in Los Gallos, another reef the team found.
A type of coral found in Los Gallos, another reef the team found.
Photo: Courtesy of Leonardo Ortiz Lozano

And of course the threat of climate change is looming over coral reefs, many of which are already feeling its impacts around the world. Warmer waters have caused waves of coral bleaching in the Gulf of Mexico. When corals bleach, they expel algae (a main source of food) as a response to the added stress. In other words, they essentially die.

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Currently, these new reefs are scattered within and outside of protected areas. Setting up protections for all the reefs is a solid first step to ensuring they survive.

Another coral formation in Corazones, one of the reefs recently discovered.
Another coral formation in Corazones, one of the reefs recently discovered.
Photo: Courtesy of Leonardo Ortiz Lozano
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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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“We want the coral corridor to be officially recognized to protect it from the fossil fuel industry,” Ortiz said.

It’s a bit late. Pemex (aka Petróleos Mexicanos) is already there. For our enviro curious, here’s a nice report on Mexico oil and gas business. It’s a big business:

https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/analysis.php?iso=MEX

Mexico oil and gas reserves in play (pumping away):reefs are located offshore Veracruz.

The current plan is to move to deeper water and shale:

Where’s those reefs? Orient off Veracruz from maps above:

Everybody loves proud leftists:

To Halt Energy Slide, Mexico Turns to a Trusted Provider: Mexico

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/11/business/energy-environment/mexico-oil-electricity-gasoline.html

Mr. López Obrador, a proud leftist, has said he intends to restore the glory days of the national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, when it helped make Mexico self-sufficient in energy and provided hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs. Weeks after he took office in December, the president gave the company a new slogan — “For the rescue of sovereignty” — that tapped into a deep vein of nationalism that binds the oil industry to Mexico’s very identity.