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NUIG scientists find deep-sea world off Irish coast

The underwater organisms could be more than 200 years old.

Bivalves, deep-water oysters and corals in the underwater habitat.
Bivalves, deep-water oysters and corals in the underwater habitat.
Image: NUIG

SCIENTISTS AT NUI Galway have discovered a deep-sea world half a mile below the sea’s surface off the Irish coast.

The underwater canyon system, which could be two centuries old, was found on a vertical rock face about 150 metres high which was densely covered in corals and bivalves (a type of mollusc).

“It is really unusual to see so many conspicuous animals so close together at these depths,” said Mark Johnson, Professor of  marine environment at NUIG.

The team of researchers explored the canyon using a remotely-controlled vehicle which allowed them to investigate the large rock face.

Going by the size of the bivalves, which the scientists said were “remarkably large”, the team estimated that the habitat could be more than 200 years old. “We are probably seeing an exceptionally long-lived and stable community,” said Johnson.

The researchers were especially interested in how sufficient food got to the site given how large it was, particularly as bivalves and corals rely on particles derived from surface waters for their food.

“We found evidence for an internal wave caused by the shape of the canyon, which could be delivering food to the foot of the wall,” said oceanographer Dr Martin White.

Zoologist Dr Louise Allcock, who led the team, said that the habitat could be vulnerable to damage because of its age and fragile structure.

“We need to established where else it occurs and what measures are needed to protect it,” she said.

It has been estimated that just 5 to 7 per cent of the ocean floor has been discovered, mainly because it is so difficult to get to it. Remote-operated-vehicles have made many of these habitats accessible for the first time.

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Christine Bohan

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