December 14,2008—High-resolution sonar images taken in early December have identified three huge deep-sea coral reefs off the coast of Florida.
At depths of nearly 1,300 feet (400 meters), the recently discovered reefs are home to hundreds, if not thousands, of species, according to scientists.
"Just imagine a 200-foot (61-meter) tall eerily white reef looming off the flat, muddy bottom," said John Reed, a senior researcher at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, who led the expedition.
Reed's team, from the Waitt Institute for Discovery, used high-frequency sonar attached to an unusual unmanned submersible—a relatively new technology—to map the ocean floor.
The reefs could be goldmines for new pharmaceutical and chemical compounds, according to Reed. He may return soon in a manned underwater vehicle to take a closer look.
The Waitt mapping project will also help scientists preserve the ocean floor, helping set aside protected areas and guiding oil prospectors and bottom-trawling fishing operations away from the reefs, Reed said.