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Jul 5, 2008
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Scientists have very recently discovered a huge coral reef off the mouth of the River Amazon, stretching over 600 miles. The reef is estimated to measure 3,600 square miles located beneath the muddy waters off the mouth of the river. The reef measures between 30-120 metres deep and contains over 60 species of sponges, 73 species of fish, spiny lobsters, stars and much other reef life and the reef appears to be thriving below the freshwater “plume”, or outflow, of the Amazon. Its discovery came as a complete surprise as traditionally, our understanding of reefs has focused on tropical shallow coral reefs which harbour biodiversity that rivals tropical rainforests.

However, the reef is already under existential threat as the Brazilian government has sold 80 blocks for oil exploration and drilling at the mouth of the Amazon and 20 of these are already producing oil - some, it is believed right on top of the reef. These exploration 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 ... largely based on sparse museum specimens. Such large-scale industrial activities present a major environmental challenge.

Should the oil exploration cease until it is know what effect its activities would have on such natural habitats? In the EU there is a cumbersome and often protracted assessment of such projects, affording a high degree of protection to natural habitats, think Galway bypass refusal. Can industrial/large scale human activities sit side by side with the natural world, is there a balance that can be reached or are they mutually exclusive? I leave the last word to the research article:

In conclusion, 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. 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 (13). 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.
Huge coral reef discovered at Amazon river mouth

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