New corals discovered on UKs highest underwater mountain

Aug 04, 2014

Heriot-Watt scientists have discovered new populations of deep-sea corals growing on the slopes of the UK's highest underwater mountain, a site recently added to the list of Scotland's new Marine Protected Areas.

UK's highest underwater mountain

Standing at 1400 m above the surrounding seafloor, the Hebrides Terrace Seamount is the UK's highest (Beinn Nevis is 1344 m above sea level).

The were discovered by a robot sub during the first-ever visual of the steep, sloping flanks of the Hebrides Terrace Seamount, an extinct, subsea volcano.

The corals support rich communities of other species and play a critical role in the life history of species that range far beyond the UK's shores, such as threatened deep-sea skates which lay their eggs on them.

Researchers were surprised to find the corals growing at such depths, in seawater that is less hospitable than shallower water such as Rockall Bank where some of the best-known cold-water reef systems in the world are found.

At the seamount depths, the seawater is naturally more corrosive to coral skeletons and as ever- greater levels of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, the oceans of the world are becoming more acidic.

Therefore the corals discovered during this survey may provide an important warning gauge of , because they are already growing close to their limits.

If the water gets any more corrosive as the oceans become more acidic, then the parts of these deep-sea coral reefs that support so many other species will dissolve away.

The knock-on impact of ocean acidification on already-threatened and little known deep-water species such as the deep-water skate, could be catastrophic.

Marine Protected Areas

Because ocean ecosystems are under pressure from and other aspects of global climate change, Marine Protected Areas will become a vital way of conserving fragile ecosystems like those on the Hebrides Terrace Seamount.

The international survey team was led by Professor J Murray Roberts of the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, aboard the RRS James Cook. Supplementary ship time funding for the Hebrides Terrace Seamount ROV survey was received from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee with the agreement of NERC.

Speaking about the discoveries made during the survey, Prof Roberts, Professor of Marine Biology, said "These were some of the most exciting surveys we've ever carried out at sea.

"We had spent almost a month at sea before we surveyed the Hebrides Terrace Seamount and it was so different from the other sites we examined.

"Now we need to get back to these sites to work out how these corals are able to survive in these harsh conditions.

"In the meantime it's very promising to see this important place included as one of Scotland's Marine Protected Areas."

Explore further: Can coral save our oceans? Researchers discover soft coral tissue may help protect reefs

More information: Henry, L.-A. Et al. "Environmental variability and biodiversity of megabenthos on the Hebrides Terrace Seamount (Northeast Atlantic)." Sci. Rep. 4, 5589; DOI: 10.1038/srep05589 (2014) recently published online in Scientific Reports

Related Stories

Corals 'can fight acidifying oceans'

Oct 11, 2013

In a world-first, scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) have shown that tropical corals have the ability to fight back against acidifying oceans caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide.

New deep-sea coral discovered

Mar 05, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists identified seven new species of bamboo coral discovered on a NOAA-funded mission in the deep waters of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Six of these species ...

Recommended for you

Germany restricts fracking but doesn't ban it

3 hours ago

The German cabinet drew up rules Wednesday on the hitherto unregulated technology of "fracking" in Germany, narrowly restricting its use, but stopping short of an outright ban.

Life in the poisonous breath of sleeping volcanos

3 hours ago

Researchers of the University Jena analyze the microbial community in volcanically active soils. In a mofette close to the Czech river Plesná in north-western Bohemia, the team around Prof. Dr. Kirsten Küsel ...

Eggs and chicken instead of beef reap major climate gains

4 hours ago

Beef on our plates is one of the biggest climate villains, but that does not mean we have to adopt a vegan diet to reach climate goals. Research results from Chalmers University of Technology show that adopting ...

Local action needed to protect nature from global warming

7 hours ago

Stronger local management can increase the resilience of nature to the impacts of climate change, writes an international team of researchers in Science. The authors examined three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: ...

Deforestation is messing with our weather and our food

7 hours ago

Today, the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) at the University of Maryland published new research in Nature Communications providing insight into how large-scale deforestation could ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.