As coral was the favourite stone of my beloved wife, she would have been delighted with the news that a vast reef, 600 miles long and covering almost 4000 square miles, has been found at the mouth of the Amazon River at a place where oceanographers thought coral could never grow.

The discovery, described as breaking all the paradigms of reef science, means that scientists will have to re-examine the range of habitats in which reefs can develop. In general, river mouths are regarded by oceanographers as completely different habitats to the waters around them; to such an extent that in the tropics they cause a discontinuity in coral reefs.

There was a paper published in 1977, however, which recorded reef fishes being found around the mouth of the Amazon. There was also considerable fishing industry in the region based around red snapper and lobster, both of which generally like reefs. But until a team of Brazilian scientists began exploratory dredging, oceanographers assumed that the region was barren.

‘If you look at modern textbooks they say that reefs do not occur at the mouths of rivers.’ Fabiano Thompson, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro says: ‘They say it is impossible. Reefs need transparent waters, free of nutrition and sediments. Instead, we have a plume rich in sediments.’

By looking at the sea’s bed at the point where the Continental Shelf disappears into the deep Atlantic Professor Thompson and his colleagues found a thriving reef in the near darkness. In the journal, Science Advances, he and his colleagues outline a new kind of reef eco system. Rather than photosynthesis, it is based on ‘chemosynthesis’ using the oxidation of minerals from the Amazon. Along with specialised organisms that can photosynthesise in low light conditions, this seems to form the basis of an ecosystem upon which the whole unexpected reef was based. ‘This is breaking all the paradigms of reef science. ‘Professor Thompson said.

It’s amazing how nature works. Scientists are often baffled and discuss many a reversal of things they have not anticipated. My wife had an exquisite eye which invariably pinpointed nature’s gems and their particular beauty. I shall always treasure her collection of coral beads as a constant reminder of her and how she evaluated nature’s gifts to mankind.


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