A research mission under the aegis of UNESCO exploring one of the biggest coral reefs in the world, off the coast of Tahiti.

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Coral reefs: A chronicle of a fragile world

Photos: Alexis Rosenfeld
Text: Katerina Markelova, UNESCO

It’s one of the biggest coral reefs in the world, unfolding its flowers and lace over a nearly three-kilometre long stretch, and one of the deepest too. This underwater treasure has for long been known to local fishermen, but its extent was unsuspected. Following a diving expedition conducted with support from UNESCO in 2021, the French explorer and photographer Alexis Rosenfeld provides us with exceptional images of this landscape.

In contrast to many other coral reefs, this particular one has escaped bleaching, the scourge that is devouring the majority of reefs. Almost half of coral ecosystems have disappeared since the 1870s because of climate change, overfishing and pollution. Of those that have survived, a third are threatened with extinction.

It’s only an estimate, since just 20 per cent of the seabed has been mapped to date. This is why UNESCO has pledged to map at least 80 per cent of the ocean floor by 2030. The deepening of our knowledge of the seabed may one day reveal the existence of other ecosystems, capable of adapting to rising ocean temperatures.

The French explorer and photographer Alexis Rosenfeld, founder of the 1 Ocean campaign carried out in partnership with UNESCO to raise public awareness on the need to preserve the ocean.
The French explorer and photographer Alexis Rosenfeld, founder of the 1 Ocean campaign carried out in partnership with UNESCO to raise public awareness on the need to preserve the ocean.
In order to capture light, rare at over 30 metres depth, the corals of this reef open like rose petals.
In order to capture light, rare at over 30 metres depth, the corals of this reef open like rose petals.
The Maldives archipelago. Two carnivorous starfish Acanthaster planci devour a coral colony. This species is today the main natural cause of the disappearance of corals.
The Maldives archipelago. Two carnivorous starfish Acanthaster planci devour a coral colony. This species is today the main natural cause of the disappearance of corals.
 Natural Park of the Coral Sea in New Caledonia, France. While clinging onto gorgonians, crinoids capture plankton with the help of their long flexible arms. This species has inhabited the ocean for about 500 million years.
Natural Park of the Coral Sea in New Caledonia, France. While clinging onto gorgonians, crinoids capture plankton with the help of their long flexible arms. This species has inhabited the ocean for about 500 million years.
These coral trees are deployed by scientists from the French laboratory CNRS-CRIOBE off the coast of Moorea (French Polynesia) to study the effects of global warming on corals.
These coral trees are deployed by scientists from the French laboratory CNRS-CRIOBE off the coast of Moorea (French Polynesia) to study the effects of global warming on corals.
The sea anemone Entacmaea quadricolor is often inhabited by clownfish. Here, in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Philippines.
The sea anemone Entacmaea quadricolor is often inhabited by clownfish. Here, in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Philippines.
The Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. The lagoon of Rikitea is home to an impressive colony of mushroom corals (Fungia scruposa) capable of moving.
The Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. The lagoon of Rikitea is home to an impressive colony of mushroom corals (Fungia scruposa) capable of moving.
A salp colony in the Mediterranean. The life cycle of this species has two phases: the first one is solitary and characterised by an asexual reproduction. The second one is collective, with reproduction becoming sexual.
A salp colony in the Mediterranean. The life cycle of this species has two phases: the first one is solitary and characterised by an asexual reproduction. The second one is collective, with reproduction becoming sexual.
A plastic bag stuck to the pectoral fin of this long-snouted dolphin (Stenella longirostris). Nondegradable waste makes up a real threat to marine fauna.
A plastic bag stuck to the pectoral fin of this long-snouted dolphin (Stenella longirostris). Nondegradable waste makes up a real threat to marine fauna.
The Aeolian Islands (Italy) in the Mediterranean. The Smoking Land is an underwater zone discovered in 2018 between the islands of Panarea and Basiluzzo. It consists of more than two hundred volcanic conduits that emit gas-rich acidic fluids.
The Aeolian Islands (Italy) in the Mediterranean. The Smoking Land is an underwater zone discovered in 2018 between the islands of Panarea and Basiluzzo. It consists of more than two hundred volcanic conduits that emit gas-rich acidic fluids.
Tahití, en la Polinesia Francesa. Los tiburones grises de arrecife (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) viven en grupo durante el día y se separan solo para cazar cuando cae la noche.
Tahiti in French Polynesia. The grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) lives in shivers during the day. These shivers only separate to chase during the night.
A hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the waters of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Philippines.
A hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the waters of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Philippines.
Erupción de sulfuro de hidrógeno en el corazón de la caldera de Panarea, una de las islas Eólicas, frente a las costas de Sicilia, en Italia. Esta zona del Mediterráneo presenta una importante actividad volcánica.
A hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the waters of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Philippines.
The Mayotte Marine Natural Park (France) in the Indian Ocean. A real link between land and the ocean, the mangrove dampens waves and serves as a natural filter.
The Mayotte Marine Natural Park (France) in the Indian Ocean. A real link between land and the ocean, the mangrove dampens waves and serves as a natural filter.
Translation: from one world to another
UNESCO
April-June 2022
UNESCO
0000381067
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