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Plates of leaf-like foliose corals are common on the Philippines' Benham Bank. Oceana / UPLB

By Allison Guy

In May 2016, technical divers descended 200 feet to Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of a huge underwater plateau off the Philippines' northeast tip. As they neared the bottom, an otherworldly landscape emerged from the dim cobalt blue.

Plates of coral grew one atop the other like china at a yard sale, dotted with sea fans and sprigs of algae. Coral columns encrusted in yellow, orange and pink coralline algae looked as though they'd been splashed with rainbow paint. Colonies thrived as far as the eye could see.

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