Research News

Rare Sponge Reefs and New Corals Discovered in Ireland

When scientists launched the EU funded SeaRover project to explore the depths of Ireland’s oceans, no one expected them to make groundbreaking discoveries.

The goal of the project was safeguarding Ireland’s delicate ecosystems and habitats from the impact of increased fishing activities.

The project was divided into three phases. In phase one, researchers assessed sensitive ecosystems using a remote operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the reef, hence the name SeaRover. In the second and third phases of the project, they analyzed the survey findings and made them publicly available through an online platform.

During the deep-sea expedition, in the initial phase of the SeaRover survey, scientists identified new coral species and sponge reefs. Using advanced technology, the team was able to unveil rich biodiversity, uncovering rare deep-sea black corals and even identified a shark nursery—a remarkable find off the coast of Ireland.

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Brisingids and sponges on a rock. (Image credit: Marine Institute)

Supported by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the SeaRover project contributed to conservation efforts and helped Ireland fulfil its national obligation to map vulnerable fisheries resources.

The project not only shed light on Ireland's offshore ecosystems, but it also emphasized the significance of international collaboration in marine research. The project’s extensive and publicly available datasets are invaluable for informing future policies on marine management and conservation.

“We must acknowledge that this work would not have been possible without the support of EMFF, and we hope to further our efforts with the support of its successor, the EMFAF. The challenge going forward is to engage the public, policy makers and researchers, and to make them aware of the unique habitats that exist in Ireland’s waters,” said Fergal McGrath, SeaRover Project Manager.

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Glass sponge. (Image credit: Marine Institute)

One of the ways the project has been engaging with the public is through outreach programs with schools. SeaRover's discoveries have been shared and used in educational materials, fostering a greater understanding of Ireland's marine biodiversity.

The project has also provided invaluable training opportunities for young scientists, ensuring the continuity of ocean exploration, conservation efforts, and new discoveries for years to come.

“Revealing the hidden wealth of the deep seas of Ireland will lead to increased knowledge of, and appreciation for, the rich biodiversity that exists offshore. These delicate habitats will require monitoring and protection to ensure their preservation for current and future generations.” underlined Fergal McGrath.


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