Coral reefs found offshore Scotland
4 August 2009, by Sara Coelho
If you're looking for pristine and colourful coral reefs teeming with exotic marine life, you don't have to go the tropics: British scientists have discovered five cold-water coral reefs much closer to home, offshore western Scotland.
Cold water reef.
The reefs were found between 600 and 2000 metres deep on the slopes of Anton Dohrn Seamount (an extinct underwater volcano) and the eastern flank of Rockall Bank, during a month-long cruise on board the research vessel M/V Franklin, that ended last week.
The expedition was put together by the British Geological Survey on the behalf of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) specifically to map deep-sea marine habitats offshore Scotland.
The newly found cold-water reefs are unspoilt by human activity and are home to a variety of fish, colourful sponges, urchins and sea stars, captured on camera at these locations for the first time.
'We're delighted that we discovered such pristine examples, and I think the images we've captured show some of the amazing habitats that we have in our deep seas,' says Neil Golding, from the JNCC.
Map showing location of cold water reef (click to enlarge).
'This is the most recent discovery of cold-water corals in our waters,' says Ken Hitchen, from the British Geological Survey and chief-scientist on board during the second half of the expedition, 'and adds to the ever-increasing list of sites where they have been discovered.'
'Cold-water coral reefs are biodiversity hotspots that need to be targeted for conservation,' adds Heather Stewart (BGS), who was involved in the planning of the mission.
'The Franklin is a floating lab equipped with state-of-the-art mapping technology,' says Hitchen. The team first used multi-beam ecosounder and side-scan sonar equipment to compile a detailed map of the ocean floor and followed up with high-tech video and stills cameras to photograph the reefs at up to 2000 metres deep.
Following these discoveries, the JNCC will consider proposing the protection of these areas to ensure that the coral reefs remain pristine. The report is expected in one to two years' time and will include inputs from the British Geological Survey and the University of Plymouth.
The M/V Franklin sailed from Aberdeen on 1 July and returned to Scrabster, on the north coast of Scotland, on 28 July.
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