The first known coral reef off the coast of Iraq has just been discovered, according to a paper in the journal Scientific Reports.
The conditions at the site — the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab River in southeastern Iraq — are surprisingly turbulent and chilly for a reef, with seawater temperatures often in the 50s (Fahrenheit).
"We were entirely surprised to find a living coral reef under such harsh conditions," lead author Thomas Pohl of Germany’s Institute for Geology Scientific Diving Center and his colleagues wrote. They added that the waters are often polluted with oil and are sediment loaded, making the discovery all the more surprising. Political instability, affecting scientific exploration, likely hindered discovery of the reef.
The authors identified a number of living stony corals and octocorals (which lack a stony skeleton), as well as sponges and aquatic mollusks that may compete with the corals for space on the reef — or that may cause the coral structure to erode.