RARE “SPONGE REEF” AND NEW CORAL SPECIES DISCOVERED IN IRELAND’S DEEP OCEAN
On a recent deep-sea expedition held 480 kilometres off the west coast of Ireland, a team of marine scientists under Ireland’s national seabed mapping programme, Integrated Mapping for the Sustainable Development of Ireland’s Marine Resource (INFOMAR), discovered a species of octocoral of the genus Corallium and a rare species of black coral which may be new to science. Another important discovery was the sighting of a potential “sponge reef” on Rockall Bank, a highly unusual and rare accumulation of living and dead sponges that has previously only been recorded in Canadian waters.
Cold-water coral reefs host 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. The last two decades have seen a dramatic increase in the understanding of cold-water coral reef ecosystems, their susceptibility to environmental change, and their low resilience to human impact.
Dr Kerry Howell from Plymouth University commented, “This is the first time I have seen a sponge reef like this in nearly 20 years of studying the deep Northeast Atlantic. This is an important find. Sponges play a key role in the marine ecosystem, providing habitat for other species and recycling nutrients. They may even be a source of new antibiotics. These new data will help us to better understand where and why these reefs occur.”
BELOWGorgonocephalus basket stars are typical of the sort of creatures that live in cold-water and deep-sea environments