A new coldwater coral habitat has been discovered on a submerged cliff face almost 1km below the sea surface by Irish marine scientists. Operating at around 300km off the Kerry coastline, the research team onboard the Marine Institute’s research vessel MV Celtic Explorer were mapping some previously unconfirmed reefs on the edge of the Porcupine Bank canyon, using the Holland I remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
Initially capturing images of a ‘blizzard’ of organic-rich particles flushing down the canyon, the ROV then moved closer to reveal a vertical cliff face habitat carpeted by coldwater coral and other marine life, including sponges, crabs and fish.
University College Cork (UCC) scientist Prof Andy Wheeler explains, “The Porcupine Bank has 500km of cliff habitat at this water depth. Corals were found between 900 and 700 metres water depth,”
This could double the amount of coral habitat already believed to be in the area, which is a designated special area of conservation.
University of Ulster scientist Dr Chris McGonigle noted that the quality of data which the State’s research vessel and its ROV can collect is “phenomenal”. He added: “We were seeing details on the seabed that a few years ago we could only have dreamed of.”