The discovery in deep water off Olympic National Park of spectacular coral beds and an entire ecosystem dependent upon them is a reminder of just how little we really know about the ocean.

Our ignorance about the Pacific and its processes is dangerous - both for humanity and for all our fellow inhabitants on an increasingly crowded and interconnected world.

Researchers with the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary were astonished by the vibrant colors and breathtaking variety of life secreted away 300 to 2,000 feet beneath the gray surface of the ocean.

This find was like "discovering never-before-mapped valleys in a national forest filled with flora and fauna we never knew existed," said Tim Keeney, co-chair of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and a deputy assistant secretary at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It's like discovering entirely new areas of rain forest," Keeney told the Seattle Times.

But even this remote oceanic "rain forest" has already seen its share of "clearcutting." Although the damage was doubtless inadvertent, scientists found fishing practices have harmed 10 of the 15 sites they surveyed. Corals have been destroyed by human activity, crushed and overturned, with the tracks of bottom-trawling fishing nets nearby. Lost and abandoned fishing gear litters the sea floor.

New federal protections bar the most destructive fishing methods in 130,000 square miles off the West Coast, but leave out a lot of this miraculous undersea wonderland. The vast majority of the sea bottom has never been seen by human eyes - who knows what wonders there may be just offshore or out in deeper waters?

With these and other coral beds acting as essential nurseries for a host of other sea life, including commercially valuable fish species, it makes sense to protect them against short-sighted and destructive practices that produce profits for a few private firms at an unacceptable cost to society and the environment.

Some of these corals live up to 20,000 years. Without active stewardship - including ample money for research and monitoring - the marine equivalent of Redwood National Park could be destroyed almost before anybody notices.

Wise fishermen and the agencies that manage our oceans will make certain this remarkable discovery marks a new beginning in our appreciation for the complex and mysterious Pacific Ocean.

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