Most people associate the word “coral” with sunshine, blue skies and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In fact, more than half of the 5,100 species on the planet exist as “cold-water corals” in deep and dark parts of the world’s oceans.
Unlike most other animals, corals are immobile and so rely heavily on currents to transport tiny bits of organic material to feed on. Over time, in some cases millions of years, cold-water corals can grow to eventually form huge skyscraper-sized structures on the seabed called “coral mounds”. These structures are common in the north east Atlantic at the edge of the Irish continental shelf. They can be several kilometres long and reach 100 metres or more in height – taller than any building in Ireland.
I have been studying the cold-water coral habitats off the coast of Ireland for a number of years, and have found these mounds of fossilised coral and sediment are incredibly varied. Some are completely covered with live coral while others have lots of dead coral on the surface, and the mounds themselves have very different shapes and sizes. MORE
Header image: The remotely operated submersible Holland 1 is lowered down from the research vessel Celtic Explorer. Credit: Aaron Lim, Author provided.