News / Industry News & Events / Video: Newly discovered rare deepwater coral identified off Irish coast (07/24/18)

Video: Newly discovered rare deepwater coral identified off Irish coast

07/24/18

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A type of black coral identified may be an entirely new species, says Marine Institute

Gardens of rare and newly discovered deepwater coral and an entire reef of sponges have been identified off the Irish west coast by a team of Irish and British scientists.

A type of black coral identified on the mission may be an entirely new species, according to Marine Institute lead expedition scientist David OSullivan and Prof Louise Allcock of NUI Galway.

Mr OSullivan notes too that the sponge reef is the first habitat of its type discovered in Irish waters, and matched only by a similar reef in Canadian waters.

Plymouth University scientist Dr Kerry Howell says she hasnt seen a sponge reef like it in 20 years of studying the deep north-east Atlantic, and says that such features may provide a new source of antibiotics.

A three-week mission on the Irish Lights ship Granuaile undertook an audit of the Irish deep sea environment in areas up to 300 nautical miles from Galway.

Images captured on the Porcupine and Rockall Banks were recorded to a depth of up to 2,991m, using the high definition camera on the Marine Institutes remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Holland 1.

Several firsts recorded by the team in Irish waters included a species of octocoral of the genus Corallium, comprising large fans of coral with a fragile porcelain-like skeleton.

The bamboo coral occurs where the Continental Shelf drops deep into the Atlantic, and may be well over 100 years old, Prof Allcock explained.

Amazed by the diversity

The black coral - so called because of its black skeleton- takes on a maroon red or cream white hue, depending on the location, she explained.

The black coral is listed as a protected species internationally, as it has been used to make jewellery in the tropics, she said.

I was aware that we had types of it here, but I am amazed by the diversity, Prof Allcock added.

The scientists explained that cold water coral reefs are ecosystems hosting a diverse range of marine animals including sea fans, sponges, worms, starfish, crustaceans and a variety of fish species, making them vitally important habitats for marine biodiversity.

These fragile deepwater reefs are commonly associated with topographic features subject to strong bottom currents - for example continental margins, seamounts and mid-ocean ridges,they said.

As filter feeders, corals depend on suspended food particulate matter resembling a type of marine snow comprising many different materials at great depths.

The team of six scientists worked alongside six technicians flying the ROV on shifts. The ROV was deployed along three kilometre sections of seabed during the 1,419 nautical mile voyage.

Up to 20,000 high definition images of 50 sites will be further analysed, while samples were also taken by the ROV.

This latest study of Irelands deep sea environment is part of the SeaRover project which began last year, and data will be forwarded in the first instance to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

This will then inform environmental assessments for any future activity off the coast, be it for oil and gas or fishing activity, the scientists said.

It also provides a snapshot of the health of existing marine special areas of conservation off the Irish coast.

Areas of study for the mission were informed by Irelands national seabed survey, Infomar, which is jointly run by the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute.