Irish coral reef discovered off Kerry coast a total surprise

24 Jun 2015

A team of Irish marine scientists have made the rather amazing discovery 300km off the coast of Kerry of a bed of cold-water coral just 700m below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

Earlier this month reported on the team aboard the MV Celtic Explorer, which has been scanning the seabed along the route taken to lay the world’s first transatlantic cable back in 1857 as part of its efforts to map the ocean’s seabed, and now it has made a rather major discovery.

With the original research mission now concluded, the research team has written a blog detailing the coral findings, having come across it while exploring the Porcupine Bank Canyon as part of its QuERCi survey (Quantifying EnviRonmental Controls on Cold-water coral reef growth).

Describing its find as “spectacular”, the team came across several 20-30m wide carbonate coral mounds in the area referred to as the Moira Mounds.

Coral reef found in Porcupine Bank Canyon

The incredible coral reef discovered in Porcupine Bank Canyon. Image via QuERCi/Graham Ryan

In some places 1km below sea level, the area where cold-water coral thrives can reach gigantic levels, with the team discovering coral carbonate mounds more than 100m tall, which team member Graham Ryan described as “oases of life in the deep ocean supporting vibrant ecosystems”.

However, Ryan said, the team were surprised to find so much coral upon entering the Porcupine Bank Canyon at depths of up to 700m, particularly black coral, while rinoids were found on glacial dropstones and sea pens and anemones were found inhabiting the soft muddy seabed.

“We were amazed with the sheer abundance and beauty of the cold-water coral reefs that we visited and it’s been an absolute privilege to get a first-hand look into this usually unseen ecosystem,” Ryan said.

3D image of Porcupine Bank Canyon

A 3D-mapped cross-section of the coral reef (boxed) that was found on the cliff-face of Porcupine Bank Canyon. Image via QuERCi /Graham Ryan

Slea Head, Co Kerry image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic