Scuba Diver Australasia + Ocean Planet - - Briefing -

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

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