Reefs of rare sponges and new species of coral discovered in the depths off the coast of Ireland

A team of scientists of the Irish Marine Institute have spent three weeks at sea in order to study Ireland’s ocean depths, 300 nautical miles off the island’s western shores. This expedition has made new discoveries thanks to the Institute’s remotely operated ‘Holland 1’ that shipped aboard the ILV Granuaile. The ROV’s high-definition footage featured a number of ‘newcomers’ to Irish waters, including a species of octocorallia of the genus Corallium which turns itself into giant ventilators with a delicate porcelain-like skeleton, as well as an entirely new species of black coral.

The study confirmed that the ocean depths off the coast of Ireland are a refuge for these rare and delicate deep-sea black corals. The team of scientists also noted potential zones of reefs of sponges on the Rockall Bank—a very unusual accumulation of dead and living sponges forming a complex habitat for many other marine creatures.

These formations are extremely rare, and had until now only been encountered in Canadian waters. The ‘SeaRover’ study is the second of three planned expeditions co-financed by the Irish government and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

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