The Marine Institute welcomed an international expedition of deep-sea coral researchers into Galway onboard the Polarstern, a German research vessel. The expedition, which began three weeks ago in Brest, France, has collected samples from 100km2 of seafloor in the Porcupine Seabight and west of the Porcupine Bank in Irish waters and recorded more that 660 hours of high-resolution images.
Some of the 40 marine scientists participating in the expedition from Ireland, the UK, Belgium, France and Germany, presented their findings at a reception onboard the Polarstern. Among the Irish scientists were Dr. Anthony Grehan (NUI Galway), Chairman of the Irish Coral Task Force, Dr. Andy Wheeler, UCC, Dr Vikram Unnithan, UCD, and Xavier Monteys, Geological Survey of Ireland.
Micheal O'Cinneide, Director of Marine Environment & Food Safety Services at the Marine Institute welcomed the Polarstern on its first visit to Ireland, "Ireland has played an active role in deepwater coral reef research and conservation in the last number of years through international collaboration on expeditions such as this, which unlock invaluable knowledge on the deepwater corals located in Irish waters. We were glad to sponsor part of the research on this cruise which included the deployment of a deepwater lander in a coral reef area".
Scientists have estimated that 60% of European deep-water coral occurrences are located in Irish waters. The Marine Institute is working with Duchas, Irish Universities and international partners such as NOAA (USA) to develop a greater understanding of the deepwater ecosystems off Ireland's coast, in order to ensure an integrated management regime for the conservation and sustainable use of Ireland's deepwater resources.
Among the initiatives to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of Ireland's coral resource was the establishment of the Irish Coral Task Force in 2001 which includes representatives from Duchas, the Marine Institute, BIM, the Irish Naval Service, the Department of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources, the Heritage Council, the Geological Survey of Ireland, NUI Galway, UCC and UCD.
In January this year, the Marine Institute and NOAA (USA) jointly hosted a deep-sea corals workshop in Galway which was attended by 25 leading international scientist in the coral field. A priority list of research projects was agreed, including a Trans-Atlantic expedition "Bridging the Gulf" to study the distribution of deepwater corals from Florida to Norway covering the Mid Atlantic Ridge, Rockall Bank and Porcupine Bank.
Ireland's first deep-sea research vessel, the Celtic Explorer, was commissioned in Galway last April. The ship is currently working off the coast of Donegal on the national sea-bed survey and will spend 500 days on the seabed survey over the next 3 years. The Marine Institute looks forward to the Celtic Explorer playing a key role in Trans-Atlantic expeditions and other future international expeditions of this type.