Possible 'Stepping Stone' Near Titanic Could Clear Up a Mystery

Rocky reef teeming with life may hold answers on how sponges, corals move across ocean floor
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 8, 2022 2:02 PM CST

When submersible pilot and diver PH Nargeolet detected a sonar blip near the famous Titanic shipwreck in the North Atlantic more than a quarter century ago, he suspected it pointed to another shipwreck lying in wait. The thing just looked so big. But he was wrong. "It turned out, in my mind, even more amazing than a shipwreck," says Murray Roberts, a marine biologist at the University of Edinburgh and one of four researchers who joined Nargeolet for an expedition to the Titanic earlier this year, per CNN. In navigating to the spot of that sonar blip, the researchers found what Roberts describes as a "biologically fascinating" deep-sea, cold-water coral reef, perhaps thousands of years old.

"It was really unbelievable, because I was never expecting to see that in my life," Nargeolet says. The rocky reef of volcanic formations, about 9,500 feet deep, is "teeming with so much life," including lobsters, fish, and sponges, he adds, per Fox News. These animals "are very different to the animals that are found otherwise living in the abyssal ocean," meaning the typically muddy and barren deep-ocean floor, Roberts tells CNN. He notes the reef, dubbed the Nargeolet-Fanning Ridge, could be a sign that more of these features exist unbeknownst to land-dwelling humans. As the outlet reports, scientists have long wondered how sponges and corals are able to travel far across the ocean floor in places where few hard surfaces exist for them to live and reproduce upon.

"Sometimes they turn up in places where we think, 'Well, how did they get there? They don't live long enough to get there,'" says Roberts. "But if there are more of these rocky places, these stepping stones, than we ever thought, I think it could help us understand the distribution of these species across the ocean." The theory would be bolstered by the discovery of another deep-sea reef in the area, which is possible. Nargeolet detected a second sonar blip during a 1996 expedition that he says indicates something even larger exists between the Titanic and the newly discovered reef. Researchers hope to explore that mystery on a future expedition, perhaps as early as next year. (More Titanic stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.