The first stunning photos of Amazon river coral reef have been revealed

The first startling photos of a recently discovered Amazon coral reef have been released, showing what scientists say may be a unique marine biome. The race to document the mysterious ecosystem is in high gear as oil companies, which obtained drilling rights before the discovery, prepare to scout the area for future production.

The surprise discovery of the reef off the mouth of the Amazon River was announced by scientists in April. The ecosystem is an unusual mix of sediment-heavy freshwater from the river plume and seawater from the Atlantic in a subtropical region. Much of the reef is in deep (up to 400 feet beneath the surface) or in murky water, which significantly reduces sunlight reaching the reef.

“We found a reef where the textbooks said there shouldn’t be one,” Fabiano Thompson of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, a co-author of the report revealing the reef discovery, told National Geographic last spring.

The reef extends almost 620 miles along the coast of Brazil and covers some 3,600 square miles with corals, sponges and red algae. It reaches from the Brazilian state of Maranhao all the way to French Guyana.

More info: Science Advances (h/t: National Geographic)