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For travelers, southern Italy just got even more appealing: The country’s first coral reef has been discovered off the coast of Puglia, near the seaside town of Monopoli.

Researchers at the University of Bari, led by department director Giuseppe Corriero, discovered the extremely rare mesophotic (meaning it can exist in low light) coral reef, which reportedly stretches at least 1.5 miles. It’s even possible that the reef extends along the entire coast.

This discovery is a surprise, since most marine scientists believed that reefs in the Mediterranean were extinct. But this one was hiding between 98 and 150 feet below the surface, according to a scientific report published by the researchers in the journal Nature.

The coral in this reef is rare because it grows in colder waters and dim light, where most coral can’t survive. Because of the depth and light, the colors of the reef are more subtle. There are reefs in the Red Sea that share some of the qualities of the mesophotic reef, such as a stonier type of coral with little color.

A thriving coral reef in the Red Sea, Egypt. (Photo via Getty Images)
A thriving coral reef in the Red Sea, Egypt. (Photo via Getty Images)

Corriero explained to The Guardian that reefs rise much closer to the surface in places such as Australia or the Maldives as sunlight helps these ecosystems to thrive, so he was excited to make such a massive discovery in the Mediterranean. “In the early 1990s I worked as a marine biologist in the Maldives. But I never thought I’d find a coral reef, 30 years later, a stone’s throw from my house,” he said.

According to La Gazetta del Mezzogiorno (a prominent newspaper in southern Italy), Puglia’s city council plans to assign the reef a protected marine area status. The environmental councilor of Puglia, Giovanni Stea, told the local news site, Bari Today, “The reef area represents a habitat for many species and marine organisms . . . It’s necessary to preserve it with the collaboration of the institutions, the citizens and the sea workers.”

This will likely include creating a model of sustainable development that prohibits damaging activities such as fishing around the reef.

Tourism bureaus in the region did not immediately respond to a request for additional information about the new reef.

Featured photo of Monopoli, Italy via Getty Images.

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