Spectacular cold water reefs discovered off Ireland's west coast

Ireland’s seabed territory is one of the largest in Europe, and more than 10 times Ireland’s land mass. Porcupine Bank is an area of the Irish shelf, on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean approximately 120miles (200 kilometres) west of Ireland. A recent expedition of Irish waters by the Marine Institute have discovered cold water coral reefs at previously unexplored depths along the Porcupine Bank. The Irish Lights Vessel, Granuaile, has been used for the deep water explorations, with researchers covering over 1,000 nautical miles. Using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) they have undertaken round the clock surveys of the sea bed. Ireland's Marine Institute (Foras na Mara) reported on the expedition, which used sophisticated equipment on the ROV, including high definition cameras. This enabled the measurement and gathering of samples at depths of up to 3km.

Scientists found a coral reef known as Solenosmilia variabilis during the recent voyage. Located at 1,600 metres below sea level, it is deeper than had ever been recorded before and in much more sizable formations. Previous expeditions have found reef covered mounds on the southern end of the Porcupine Bank, which have been described as  the most pristine, thriving and spectacular examples of cold-water coral reefs in Irish waters. They take around around one year to increase in size by just one millimetre, so the reefs could be up to 4,000 years old. Once the Granuaile had docked in Galway yesterday morning (26th July), hundreds of samples were unloaded and taken to the Marine Institute and to NUI Galway for further examination. 

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