After six years of researching the uncharted depths of coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea, scientists have discovered an entirely new ocean zone called the rariphotic zone. This column of water sits 130 to 490 feet below the sea surface, where it is too dark for photosynthesis, but above the dark fathoms of the aphotic zone. Even though photosynthetic reef building isn’t happening here, the newly-designated zone is anything but barren – read on for a first glimpse at the life below.
Scientists found 4,436 individual fish around Curacao Island over 80 dives – and so far they’ve named 30 new species and identified six new genera of rariphotic specialists. There will be plenty more to come, as a fifth of the fish that the researchers saw have never been identified before. The research indicates that life can exist in depths far lower than we ever thought before.
“Reef ecosystems just below the mesophotic are globally underexplored, and the conventional view based on the few studies that mention them was that mesophotic ecosystems transition directly into those of the deep sea,” said Carole Baldwin, lead researcher and director of the Smithsonian’s Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP). “Our study reveals a previously unrecognized zone comprising reef vs. deep-sea fishes that links mesophotic and deep-sea ecosystems.”
The research was published this week in the journal Nature.
Images via Nature