New coral reef found off west coast

A massive new deep-sea coral reef has been discovered off the west coast.

Marine researchers from NUI Galway have found a virtually untouched 200sq km rugged area of seabed covered in 100m high underwater hills and coral plants more than three times the normal size.

Dr Anthony Grehan, NUI Galway, said if protected the virtually untouched site could benefit dwindling fish stocks and possibly aid medical research.

“These are by far the most pristine, thriving and hence spectacular examples of cold-water coral reefs that I’ve encountered in almost 10 years of study in Irish waters,” he said.

“There is also evidence of recent recruitment of corals and many other reef animals in the area suggesting this area is an important source of larvae supply to other areas further along the Porcupine Bank.”

Researchers said they have discovered 40 reef covered mounds on the southern end of the Porcupine Bank 320km off the west coast.

Dr Grehan described the reef as rugged seabed terrain, unsuitable for trawlers and said the area would be an excellent candidate for an off-shore coral Special Area of Conservation. Four SAC areas have already been identified off Ireland.

Researchers have also suggested the coral reefs might hold one of the last untapped reservoirs potentially supporting new anti-viral or anti-bacterial drugs.

Anna Rensdorf, a Griffith Geoscience PhD student in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, NUI Galway, who had previously worked on tropical corals, explained the significance.

“I can’t believe that coral reefs like these can be found in the cold waters of Ireland,” she said.

“On many of the mounds surveyed, living coral thickets stood up to 2m high where ordinarily they are less than half a metre in height.”

A research expedition on board the Marine Institute research vessel, the RV Celtic Explorer made the discovery earlier this month using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to survey the seafloor and capture unique video footage.

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