Scientists shocked to find coral reef in murky waters off Iraq

Los Angeles Times
Sat, Mar 8, 2014

by Karen Kaplan

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in the waters off the coast of Iraq: a coral reef made up of more than half a dozen species of the marine animals.

A team of divers from the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology in Germany and the Marine Science Center at the University of Basrah in Iraq captured video footage of the murky waters where the Shatt al-Arab river flows into the northwestern portion of the Persian Gulf. The river carries sediment -- and frequently oil -- into that portion of the gulf, which is often churned up by strong winds and currents.

These conditions were thought to make the waters inhospitable to coral. But it appears marine biologists had underestimated the adaptability of these invertebrate underwater creatures.

In addition to corals, the researchers found sponges, another type of underwater animal that lives in colonies. “To identify sponges in this marine environment was entirely surprising” because they were thought to be too delicate to live in waters with high concentrations of sediment, they wrote.

Further study of the Iraqi reefs can help scientists understand how coral and other marine species will adapt to conditions brought on by global warming, the researchers said.

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