Amazon’s Recently Discovered Coral Reef Already Under Threat Of Oil Drilling


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor


The reef was first documented in pictures by Greenpeace in January. © Greenpeace

In 2016, scientists made an astonishing discovery of a coral reef in the most unlikely of places: the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. Now it looks like drilling for oil in this area may take place before scientists even get the chance to study it.

Corals usually live in saltwater, and light – often blocked out by muddy waters in flowing rivers – is imperative for them to grow. The mouth of the Amazon river, where saltwater meets freshwater, is a tumultuous environment that nobody expected shallow, saltwater-loving corals to thrive in, but there it was.


However, the Brazilian government had already sold off exploration areas in the Foz de Amazonas (mouth of Amazon), thought to be so rich in oil it could hold up to 15.6 billion barrels of the stuff, to prominent oil companies back in 2013.

Post-discovery, this still appears to be going ahead.

“It’s unlike any other reef that we know about,” Sara Ayech, an oil campaigner at Greenpeace told the Guardian. “If the companies drill there’s a risk of an oil spill and if an oil spill hits the reef, then we could see parts of it destroyed before we even document them.”

© Greenpeace

The oil companies involved – Total, BP, and Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras – have plans to start the exploration process as soon as August or September of this year. To do this, however, they have to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that needs to be signed off by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).


So far, IBAMA has rejected their EIA, and the Federal Prosecutor for the State of Amapá, where the reef is located, has recommended the suspension of both the oil exploration and environmental licensing process, according to a Greenpeace report.

The EIA, which included “spill risk modeling”, was first conducted by Total and submitted back in 2015, though it made no mention of the reef. The discovery of the reef was announced in 2016, but confirmation of the reef system’s existence was actually in 2012. Amended versions, however, have calculated a 30 percent chance of the reef being affected by an oil spill – something the oil companies are trying to play down and conservationists are trying to play up.

The Brazilian government hasn’t made a decision on whether to suspend exploration – which would bring in a lot of money and jobs – although the pressure is mounting for them to put protections in place for this incredibly unique biome.

© Greenpeace

The coral reef system covers 9,500 kilometers squared (3,670 miles squared), stretching from the French Guiana-Brazil border to the Maranhão State in Brazil. It’s between 30 and 120 meters deep (100 and 400 feet), and has up to 61 species of sponge alone, 29 of which had not been seen before.


Currently, only 5 percent of the reef has been mapped. Let's hope researchers get to explore it further before the chance disappears. 

  • tag
  • conservation,

  • BP,

  • oil drilling,

  • total,

  • coral reef amazon river,

  • mouth of amazon,

  • Foz de Amazonas