Colorful coral reef found near the surface of the ocean is common, but to find it at greater depths is rare. Colorful coral reef found near the surface of the ocean is common, but to find it at greater depths is rare. Colorful coral reef found near the surface of the ocean is common, but to find it at greater depths is rare. (Photo: Volodymyr Goinyk/Shutterstock)

Why did these colorful coral reefs shock scientists?

The organisms were discovered 160 feet below the surface of the Red Sea.

Coral emitting a surprising array of colors has been discovered in the deepwater reefs off the southern coast of Israel, in the Red Sea.

The coral glowed bright yellow, green, orange and red and was collected from more than 160 feet below the surface by an international team of scientists led by staff from the University of Southampton in the U.K., and Tel Aviv University and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences (IUI) in Israel.

This image shows the fluorescence of corals commonly found in mesophotic reefs of the Red Sea.This image shows the fluorescence of corals commonly found in mesophotic reefs of the Red Sea. (Photo: Professor Jörg Wiedenmann

Gal Eyal, a PhD candidate at the IUI, said in a statement: "Since only the blue parts of the sunlight penetrate to depths greater than 50 metres [164 feet], we were not expecting to see any red coloration around. To our surprise, we found a number of corals showing an intense green or orange glow. This could only be due to the presence of fluorescent pigments."

Scientists believe coral found in shallow water use fluorescence as a sort of sunscreen, but finding organisms that glow even more intensely at farther depths, where little sunlight penetrates, was surprising. It's akin to applying sunscreen at night.

The fluorescence of this Lobophyllia coral can change from green to red when exposed to violet light.The fluorescence of this Lobophyllia coral can change from green to red when exposed to violet light. (Photo: Professor Jörg Wiedenmann)

While the findings are relatively fresh, the scientists hope their discovery translates into real-world benefits.

"Their optical properties potentially make them important tools for biomedical imaging applications, as their fluorescent glow can be used to highlight living cells or cellular structures of interest under the microscope," Jörg Wiedenmann, professor of Biological Oceanography and head of the University of Southampton's Coral Reef Laboratory, explained.

"They could also be applied to track cancer cells or as tools to screen for new drugs."

Corals from shallow water of the Red Sea are mostly green fluorescent as this Platygyra coral.Corals from shallow water of the Red Sea are mostly green fluorescent as this Platygyra coral. (Photo: Prof J Wiedenmann)

Green and red fluorescence of Blastomussa merletti coral from mesophotic coral reefs in the Red Sea.Green and red fluorescence of Blastomussa merletti coral from mesophotic coral reefs in the Red Sea. (Photo: Prof J Wiedenmann)

Red fluorescence of Dipsastraea (Favia) sp. coral from mesophotic reefs of the Red Sea.Red fluorescence of Dipsastraea (Favia) sp. coral from mesophotic reefs of the Red Sea. (Photo: Prof J Wiedenmann)

For more, read the published research here or check out this video of the coral reef discovery:



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