The National Park Service named four new national natural landmarks. The lucky places include a Texas cave, Pensylvania meadows adapted to naturally toxic soil, and a Kentucky Pleistocene fossil site. But my favorite is the Chazy Fossil Reef in Vermont and New York.
The Chazy reef, located on an island in Lake Champlain, is thought to be the oldest fossil reef in the world. It contains gorgeous fossils from the dawn of ocean ecosystems 450 million years ago. From the Smithsonian Magazine:
The Chazy Reef is the oldest reef in the world built by a community of organisms (a few older reefs are made up of one species only). Its foundation was built by Bryozoa, animals that preceded coral by millions of years but exist in similar forms today. The soft-bodied animals, a fraction of an inch long, resemble twigs and gumdrops in shape.
In the next horizon we find the stromatoporoids, extinct relatives of sponges. Then comes an extinct type of algae, followed by actual sponges, more algae and the oldest-known reef-building coral. The coral species found in the Chazy Reef are also extinct. Some looked like flowers, others like organ pipes or honeycombs.
In its heyday, the reef was also home to a bizarre menagerie of other marine life. Large tentacled cephalopods, ancestors of the squid and nautilus, scarfed up trilobites. Crinoids, delicate animals related to starfish that looked like flowers atop a long stem, waved back and forth in the currents. Gastropods, or large snails, proliferated—some of the fossil swirls that “mar” radio black limestone.