A living coral reef measuring 4 km by 7 km has been discovered in the turbid coastal waters of Iraq. The finding is described in the journal Scientific Reports and represents the first known coral reef in Iraq.
Coral reefs are thought to be environmentally sensitive marine ecosystems, and tend to develop in sites with clear water, ambient temperature, moderate salinity and strong wave action. The coral complexes that are known to exist in the Arabian/Persian Gulf are adapted to one of the most extreme coral-bearing environments on Earth, with sea temperatures ranging from 14 to 34 oC, tides that are occasionally very low, and high salinity. Although coral ecosystems have been discovered in the coastal regions of most countries that border the Arabian/Persian Gulf, no coral reefs were known in Iraq, which has only a 58-kilometre coastline. Iraq’s turbid coastal waters have prevented the detection of the potential presence of coral reefs in the area using satellite observations
Hermann Ehrlich and colleagues report the results of a scientific dive expedition that revealed the existence of a live coral reef in Iraqi coastal waters. The authors identified a number of living stony corals and octocorals (which lack a stony skeleton), as well as sponges and aquatic molluscs that may compete with the corals for space on the reef or that may bio-erode the coral structure. Four of the coral groups identified are slow-growing massive species that are robust enough to develop under the harsh environmental conditions.
The discovery of this unique turbid-water-tolerant coral reef community could provoke the interest of the international scientific community working to understand coral ecosystems and climate. These habitats urgently need protection, conservation and research, especially in areas of oil and gas exploration, the authors conclude.