Ireland has corals, and they live on the edge of a submarine canyon

Meet Ireland’s coral: image taken 800 metres below the waves | Image: Aaron Lim

New study finds that cold water corals can survive in extreme conditions – within a submarine canyon

Most people associate corals with sunshine, blue skies and warm seas. In reality more than half of the 5,100 species of coral live in deep and dark parts of the world’s oceans.

The Irish Marine Institute’s deepwater research used a submersible to investigate the Porcupine Bank, a vast submarine canyon at the edge of Ireland’s continental shelf.

The remotely operated submersible Holland 1 is lowered down from the research vessel Celtic Explorer
The remotely operated submersible Holland 1 is lowered down from the research vessel Celtic Explorer | Image: Aaron Lim

The images reveal that corals are thriving at the very edge of the canyon on a near-vertical cliff face. Not only that but the currents here were fast, sometimes more than a metre per second, the highest speed ever recorded in a cold-water coral habitat.

These cold-water corals are growing at the very edge of a near-vertical cliff face, in Ireland’s largest submarine canyon some 850m below the surface in very intense conditions – they’re quite literally living on the edge

 Dr Aaron Lim – University College Cork (UCC) scientist who led the research.
Cold-water coral grows at 750m in the Porcupine Bank Canyon
Cold-water coral grows at 750m in the Porcupine Bank Canyon
Image: UCC Marine Geology Research Group

Cold-water corals help to form deep-water reefs and mounds which can range from as little as 10m to more than 100m high. Some coral mounds have existed offshore Ireland for 2.6 million years.

Cold waster coral reef
Around the Belgica Mound Province 50 giant coral mounds and 300 smaller coral reefs have accumulated over millions of years

The research was funded by Science Foundation Ireland and Horizon 2020, with co-funding by the Marine Institute and Geological Survey, Ireland.

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