You might think a 600-mile long coral reef is something that wouldn’t go unnoticed, but that’s exactly what’s happened. Scientists just discovered an enormous reef at the mouth of the Amazon River in South America, and it may not have been found if not for a series of happy accidents. The researchers were in the area to study, in part, how the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, when a few of them proposed to look for a reef that ‘might’ exist off the coast of Brazil.

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Patricia Yager of the University of Georgia was the only American on the expedition, and she talked with the Atlantic about her reaction when senior Brazilian scientist Rodrigo Moura proposed searching for the reef. “I kind of chuckled when Rodrigo first approached me about looking for reefs. I mean, it’s kind of dark, it’s muddy—it’s the Amazon River,” Yager said. “But he pulls out this paper from 1977, saying these researchers had managed to catch a few fish that would indicate reefs are there. He said, ‘Let’s see if we can find these.’”

Related: Scientists discover more biodiverse deepwater reef than the Great Barrier Reef

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So, the team added a secondary objective to the expedition. Yager was able to locate a big dredge, at her alma mater University of Washington, and have it transported just in the nick of time to the Amazon to make the search possible. Luckily, the team was able to continue their original mission and scrape together just enough spare time to chase Moura’s curiosity about the potential of an offshore reef.

Yager said she and the 30 oceanographers on the journey were “flabbergasted” when the dredge brought up corals, sponges, stars, and fish that indicated they had been floating above a coral reef for most of their adventure. Conditions near the mouth of the Amazon River make a sponge and coral reef an unlikely find, yet nature often defies the odds. Subsequent expeditions have revealed the reef is a diverse habitat, with different biology depending on location, suggesting that reef creatures have gravitated to the areas most conducive to their survival.

A report on the discovery was published this week in the journal Science.

Via The Atlantic

Images via Mapbox and Patricia Yager