International Deep Sea Coral Experts Gather in Galway

Scientists from each side of the Atlantic attended a workshop in Galway to develop an international ‘Deep-Sea Coral Action Plan’ to address issues of science, conservation and management of deep-water reefs. The workshop, held as part of on-going collaboration between the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Marine Institute, was attended by 30 leading experts from the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

"This collaboration speaks volumes for our shared sense of responsibility to urgently convince Governments of the need to protect these fragile coral habitats" said Dr. Anthony Grehan, NUI Galway. This is particularly relevant in an Irish context as Ireland is home to some of the most outstanding examples of deep-water corals in Europe.

One of the key outcomes of the workshop is an ambitious proposal to undertake a Gulf Stream expedition, which would consist of a series of co-ordinated research missions from the Gulf of Mexico to Europe. No one country can undertake to research deep-sea corals in isolation, as they span international waters, have similar ecological systems and face similar threats such as pressures from deep-sea trawling, and oil & gas exploration. "International collaboration in deep-sea coral exploration is vital in order to develop our understanding of a resource we know relatively little about", said Dr. Stephen Browne, NOAA. Coral systems are important as they could function as indicators of climate change and provide potential sources for novel bio-compounds for use in medical, pharmaceutical ad biotechnology industries.

In addition to this a further 20 scientific projects are planned across Ireland, Europe, the US and Canada in the coming years to increase our understanding of these coral systems.

Among the issues addressed at the workshop was mapping the distribution of deep-sea corals and restoration of damaged coral reefs. Biodiversity was another key theme, highlighting the diversity of fauna living in deep-sea coral habitats and examining the role that habitat plays in their life history. Deep-sea corals, which can be hundreds to thousands of years old, can provide us with a window on the past to understand present climate change by unlocking key information on historical physical and chemical oceanic conditions.

The workshop was jointly hosted by NOAA and the Marine Institute and followed on from a meeting in Tampa, Florida last November which identified five common themes in international deep-sea coral research and profiled current research in the area identifying synergies and potential for collaboration.