12 Unbelievable Submerged and Underwater Forests Around the World

Tall, thin trees emerging from light blue waters in a mountain lake.
Kaindy Lake with submerged birches in Tien Shan Mountain, Akmaty, Kazakhstan.

taniche / Getty Images

Submerged and underwater forests are those whose trees have been drowned due to rising sea levels and preserved thanks to cold water temperatures. Occurring all over the world, they're often formed when a dam is established on a river, causing water to back up and create a lake over established forests.

Despite their "drowned" look, not all are dead. Some contain cypress or mangrove trees whose special roots allow them to breathe and survive even in water. Kelp forests are also examples of living underwater forests. Growing in dense groupings, these provide critical habitat for marine wildlife and absorb carbon dioxide, giving them a crucial role in greenhouse gas regulation.

Let’s explore 12 fascinating and important submerged forests across the world.

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The Underwater Forest (Alabama, U.S.)

Underwater tree roots of cypress in Gulf of Mexico

Francis Choi / NOAA

An ancient underwater forest teeming with aquatic life exists just off the coast of Alabama. Scientists discovered the cypress forest 60 feet underwater in the Gulf of Mexico after giant waves during 2004’s Hurricane Ivan uncovered it. They believed the forest had been buried beneath sediments for more than 60,000 years.

When the forest was young, sea levels were about 400 feet lower than they are today. Now, under the surface, aquatic life thrives. Thousands of trees are still rooted there, providing unique habitat and foraging opportunities for aquatic animals, including mantis shrimp, crabs, anemones, and many fish. Because the forest dates back millennia, it can provide valuable information about its region’s history, from climate change to biodiversity patterns.

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Lake Bezid (Romania)

A large lake surrounded by hills and greenery

Tetcu Mircea Rareș / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

As if the Transylvania region of Romania needed another thing to creep people out, it's home to an entire sunken village and forest in Lake Bezid. The lake formed in 1988 because a dam was built and subsequently flooded the town of Bezid. Residents fled as water drowned their houses—about 100 of them. They still speckle the lake’s floor today like a submerged graveyard. Dead remnants of trees still rise above the lake’s surface along with an old church tower.

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Great African Seaforest (South Africa)

An underwater kelp forest.

Roger Horrocks / Getty Images

You may recognize the Great African Seaforest from the 2020 Netflix documentary "My Octopus Teacher," which follows a diver as he develops a unique bond with an octopus who welcomes him into her underwater world.

This is the only forest of giant bamboo kelp in the world, extending from the shores of Cape Town to Namibia (a distance of more than 600 miles). It's also where the oldest archaeological evidence of art and science was discovered.

In addition to the cuttlefish, octopuses, and colorful starfish that live in the Great African Seaforest, sharks frequent the area to lay eggs.

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Lake Periyar (India)

Dead tree stumps emerging from a lake near a mountain

MagicColors / Getty Images

The dead tree stumps that rise from Lake Periyar in Kerala, India, once made up a living forest. The lake was formed when the Mullaperiyar Dam was built in 1895, flooding thick woodlands and their rugged landscape. The reservoir, measuring 10 square miles, is now part of a 357-square-mile protected area serving as an elephant and tiger reserve. This protected area was officially named Periyar National Park in 1982.

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Clear Lake (Oregon)

A clear blue lake with trees underwater.

Samson1976 / Getty Images

Lava flows from the High Cascades dammed Oregon’s McKenzie River about 3,000 years ago, preserving the area’s pristine forest and creating Clear Lake. When explorers searching for a route over the Cascades discovered the lake in 1859, they didn’t realize an entire ecosystem lay just below its surface.

It sits at an altitude of 3,000-plus feet, so its temperature is near freezing year-round. Despite the cold, divers flock to Willamette National Forest to swim in this lake through an ancient sunken forest.

Active underground springs predominantly feed Clear Lake, which gives it its signature pellucid look. The crystal-clear waters make it easy to see the underground forest from above. Visitors can kayak or paddleboard over the giant trees for a closer look.

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Lake Huron (Michigan, U.S.)

Scuba divers exploring in a rocky lake.

imagixian / Getty Images

About two miles off the shores of Lake Huron lies a petrified forest in 40 feet of water. Using carbon dating, scientists have determined the trees to be nearly 7,000 years old. The petrified trees originally grew on dry land, so their discovery suggests that the Great Lakes area had a very different landscape thousands of years ago.

Since the discovery of the submerged forest, researchers have found evidence of ancient hunting camps and believe that early hunters were able to roam and run through the lake. The area is now a popular diving spot, attracting underwater explorers from across the globe.

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Lake Kaindy (Kazakhstan)

Tall, thin trees emerging from turquoise water in mountain lake.

Kolupaev / Getty Images

Lake Kaindy is a 1,300-foot-long lake located about 6,600 feet above sea level in Kolsay Lakes National Park, Kazakhstan. The 1911 Kebin earthquake triggered a major limestone landslide, which caused a natural dam and formed the lake. Frigid water temperatures helped preserve the forest under the surface.

The lake is stunning, with vivid turquoise waters through which tall, thin tree trunks grow. The trees, of species Picea schrenkiana, are evergreens native to the Tien Shan mountains and are commonly referred to as Shrenk’s spruces or Asian spruces.

The toothpicklike trunks above the water’s surface are seemingly barren, stripped of life due to prolonged exposure to the elements. Underneath is another story. Pale green algae covers the underwater branches and trunks of the trees. The spectacular sight draws visitors from across the world who like to dive and paddle around it.

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Caddo Lake (Texas, U.S.)

Cypress trees emerging out of water in Caddo Lake, Texas.

earleliason / Getty Images

On the border between Texas and Louisiana lies 25,400-acre Caddo Lake, home to the world’s largest cypress forest. Geologists believe the lake was formed sometime in the past thousand years after an enormous log jam on the Red River created a dam and flooded the low-lying area.

Caddo Lake is shallow and sprawling, filled with cypress trees covered in Spanish moss. These trees are alive and well, with special roots called pneumatophores that protrude above the water to capture oxygen.

Caddo Lake wetlands are home to a tremendous number of various plants and animals. The area provides critical habitat for more than 40 endangered, threatened, and rare native species.

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Kampong Phluk (Cambodia)

Mangrove trees submerged in water.

GarySandyWales / Getty Images

Only a few thousand people live in Kampong Phluk, a collection of three floating villages known for their clusters of tall houses on wooden stilts. The community is built within the floodplains of the Tonle Sap Lake in an area surrounded by a flooded mangrove forest. There, waterbirds, fish, crocodiles, turtles, and other wildlife thrive.

During the wet season, the nearby Mekong River fills with snowmelt and runoff from monsoons. Water backs up into the Tonle Sap River, which then fills Tonle Sap Lake, where Kompong Phluk is. Like cypress trees, mangroves have natural conduits that protrude out of the water and allow them to breathe while submerged.

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Lake Volta (Ghana)

Dead tree branches rising out of a lake.

nicolasdecorte / Getty Images

Actually a reservoir, Lake Volta is one of the world’s largest artificially created lakes, covering an area of about 3,275 square feet. About 78,000 people were relocated and 120 buildings destroyed when the area was flooded upon the completion of the Akosombo Dam in 1965. Thousands of oak trees were left still standing after the flood, and many of them still lurk—partially fossilized—near the surface.

Between 2018 and 2020, the Ghana Maritime Authority reportedly removed more than 21,000 of the sunken trees to improve navigation on transportation routes. Further, following the April 15, 2019, Notre Dame cathedral fire, Ghana's Kete Krachi Timber Recovery submitted a proposal to use trees from the lake to help restore it. Conservationists shot back, saying the trees are important habitat for fish, some endangered.

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Borth Beach (Wales)

Landscape of ancient petrified tree stumps on a beach.

Chris Griffiths / Getty Images

Harsh winds and pounding waves striking the beach near Ynylas, near Borth, Wales, expose its thousand-year-old secret: It used to be a thriving forest. The evidence, including long-dead tree stumps and compacted peat, emerges after stormy weather washes away the sand covering it. 

The ancient petrified forest contains the ghosts of oak, pine, birch, willow, and hazel trees preserved by anaerobic conditions in the peat. Radiocarbon dating suggests the trees died around 1500 BC.

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Doggerland (Great Britain)

Sunset over the Wash estuary with sunken trees in background

asnidamarwani / Getty Images

Doggerland is the now-submerged stretch of land that once connected Great Britain to continental Europe. Scientists believe a submarine landslide off the coast of Norway, the Storegga Slide, flooded coastal land surrounding it around 6200 BC. Before that, Doggerland was made up of thick forests and marshland, home to Mesolithic people who used it as a seasonal hunting ground. The people were flooded out of the area over time as glaciers and ice sheets began to melt.

Evidence of Doggerland was first discovered in the first half of the 20th century, and in the 1990s fishermen came across animal tusks and ancient tools. Scientists and archaeologists have since explored the area thoroughly, discovering peat and fossilized forests beneath the seafloor.

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