Scuba divers have uncovered an underwater forest off the coast of Alabama that was buried under ocean sediments and protected in an oxygen-free environment for more than 50,000 years. Experts suggest that the Bald Cypress forest was likely uncovered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Ben Raines, one of the first divers to explore the underwater forest, told LiveScience that the forest contains trees so well-preserved that when they're cut, they still smell like fresh Cypress sap.
Raines said the stumps of the Cypress trees span an area of at least 0.5 square miles (0.8 kilometers), several miles from the coast of Mobile, and sit about 60 feet (18 meters) below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
The underwater forest discovery apparently came after a local dive shop owner found a site crowded with fish and wildlife and suspected that something big was hidden below. The diver went down to explore and found a forest of trees, and then told Raines about his spectacular find. But because scuba divers often take artifacts from shipwrecks and other sites, the dive shop owner refused to disclose the location for many years, Raines said.
In 2012, the owner finally disclosed the site's location to Raines, who then did his own dive and discovered a primeval Cypress swamp in pristine condition. The forest had become an artificial reef, attracting fish, crustaceans, sea anemones and other underwater life burrowing between the roots of dislodged stumps.
"Swimming around amidst these stumps and logs, you just feel like you're in this fairy world," Raines told LiveScience.
A team of scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi and Louisiana State University are in the process of applying for grants to explore the site more thoroughly.