Who needs to fly to the Maldives when you've got the crystal clear waters and incredible beaches of Puglia? Italians have long known that the southern region could give any exotic long-haul holiday destination a run for its money.
And now researchers have found that Puglia also has the kind of coral reef more usually found near tropical slands.
An unusual reef thought to be unique in Europe has been discovered in the Adriatic Sea, close to the popular seaside town of Monopoli.
Screenshot: Google Maps
Italy's first coral reef is at least 2.5 kilometres in length, though the latest studies estimate that it probably stretches for at least 135 kilometres.
Scientists say it could possibly run the entire length of the region's eastern coatline – some 200 kilomtres from Bari to Otranto – forming a reef similar to those found in Australia, the Maldives or the Red Sea.
Researchers from the Department of Biology of the University of Bari, led by the director Giuseppe Corriero, reported their unexpected discovery in the Scientific Reports journal, triggering great excitement among European biologists, conservationists and nature lovers.
At a depth of between 30 and 55 meters below sea level, the mesophotic coral reef – a term for ecosystems with low levels of light – are more usually found in places like the Maldives or Carribean.
This depth creates unique conditions for marine life as well as unusually vibrant colours.
“In the case of the Maldives or Australian barriers, the symbiotic processes between the madrepores (stony corals that form the reefs) are facilitated by light,” Corriero told La Gazetta del Mezzogiorno.
“Our barrier lives in dim light and therefore the madrepores constitute these imposing structures of calcium carbonate with the absence of algae.”
The conditions also mean the corals are coloured in muted shades of orange, red, or purple, he explained.
Following the discovery, regional and port authorities are planning to create a new protected marine area off Monopoli
The seaside town of Monopoli, Puglia, and surrounding coastline is famous for its clear waters. Photo: Depositphotos