A team of marine scientists led by INFOMAR chief scientist David O'Sullivan have returned to Galway after spending three weeks at sea investigating Ireland's deep ocean territory 300 miles off the west coast. The deep sea expedition led to new discoveries using the Marine Institute's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Holland 1 onboard the ILV Granuaile. The high definition ROV-mounted video captured a number of 'firsts' in Irish waters, including a species of octocoral of the genus Corallium, which grows into huge fans with a delicate porcelain-like skeleton, and a species of black coral different to others described to date, which may prove to be an entirely new species. The survey confirmed Irish deep-waters as a haven for these rare and delicate deep-sea black corals. The team of scientists also reported areas of potential 'sponge reef' on the Rockall Bank, a highly unusual accumulation of living and dead sponges forming a complex habitat for many other creatures. Such formations are very rare and have previously only been recorded in Canadian waters.
Cold water coral reefs are ecosystems that host a diverse range of marine animals including sea fans, sponges, worms, starfish, crustaceGorgonocephalus - An Ophiuroid Basket starans and a variety of fish species, making them vitally important habitats for marine biodiversity. These fragile deep water reefs are commonly associated with topographic features subject to strong bottom currents, for example continental margins, seamounts and mid-ocean ridges, because as filter feeders, the corals depend on suspended food particulate matter. The high resolution bathymetric dataset acquired as part of the national seabed mapping programme, INFOMAR, was used to target potential locations of reef habitat for this survey by identifying specific seabed morphological features likely to support cold water coral. The last two decades have seen a dramatic increase in our understanding of the cold water coral reef ecosystems, their susceptibility to environmental change, and their low resilience to human impact.
Read more about the survey here.