Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Rare cold water coral ecosystem discovered off coast of Mauritania

Date:
November 15, 2010
Source:
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum
Summary:
A rare cold water coral reef with living animals has been discovered off the coast of Mauritania. In the middle of the enormous rock formation of the undersea canyon area, scientists also stumbled across the giant deep sea oyster, a Methuselah among sea creatures.

Octocoral colony with giant clams on dead Lophelia corals at a depth of 615 m.
Credit: Tomas Lundälv, Sven Lovén Centre, University of Gothenburg

From previous research projects, Professor André Freiwald, head of the marine research department (Senckenberg am Meer, Wilhelmshaven) already had an idea of the extent of the cold water coral bank which, on the basis of previous knowledge, was located unusually far to the south. Now the Senckenberg scientist reports from on board the Maria S. Merian research ship that a cold water coral reef with living animals has been discovered off the coast of Mauritania. In the middle of the enormous rock formation of the undersea canyon area, the scientists also stumbled across the giant deep sea oyster, a Methuselah among sea creatures.

The coral wall on the continental shelf off the coast of Mauritania measures 50 to 60 m high and is 190 km long. When the Swedish robot pilot Tomas Lundälv of the Sven Lovén Centre of the University of Gothenburg set down a diving robot on the seafloor at a depth of 615 m, the scientist on board the research ship found himself via a video link in the middle of a flourishing coral ecosystem. André Freiwald reports on a heavily calcified Lophelia coral with orange-red polyps and gorgonias, which, beside the reef-building stony corals, formed imposing octocoral gardens in the dark and otherwise inaccessible habitat. According to the excited expedition report, giant clams also hang on the coral galleries, in exactly the same way as is found elsewhere in Norwegian reef systems.

Such impressive ecosystems were previously only known above all from regions of the sea located much further to the north, around Scandinavia and in the Irish Sea. Unlike their tropical relatives, found by snorkellers and scuba divers in the illuminated and significantly warmer surface waters, cold water corals live at a cold 13° in the dark and nutrient-rich deep sea region below 200 m. André Freiwald was aware of a loose cold water coral reef which extends to southern regions. Until now, however, scientists had only found fossil coral reef structures on the seafloor off the coast of Gibraltar and Morocco.

While the Maria S. Merian, equipped with a dynamic positioning system, accompanied the diving robot step by step, the on-board coral team followed the exploratory dive, around 60 km west of Cape Tamirist, which took them into absolutely uncharted waters. Meter by meter, the device worked its way up the slope following a navigation chart drawn up by the Senckenberg scientist, Dr. Lydia Beuck, when at a depth of approximately 500 m, the coral group discovered further Lophelia colonies in a bizarre rock formation which nevertheless have a significantly more fragile development of calcification. In his report, André Freiwald writes that at the same time, the diversity of sponges and large crustaceans at the location increased significantly. Among other things, the scientists found the powerful carrier crab Paromola here, and on diving through the rocky landscape, also found the giant deep sea oyster Neopycnodonte, also never before observed so far to the south. These giant oysters form thick populations and can be described as Methuselahs among animals, with some individuals living for over 500 years.

For the scientists on board the Maria S. Merian, the discovery of the ecosystem with living cold water corals came as a surprise. André Freiwald sees one reason for the southern occurrence of the anthozoans which are adapted to cold temperatures in the upwelling ocean cells steered by the Passat wind. The offshore winds push the surface waters from the Mauritanian cliffs out into the open ocean and thereby permit a following flow of cold and nutrient-rich water from the depths. This evidently not only ensures that the Mauritanian waters are among the richest of any in fish but also presumably also provides the cold water corals with appropriate feed. According to statements by coral experts, the marine creatures feed on the nutrients released by plankton organisms.

The 16th research voyage with the Maria S. Merian, under the leadership of Professor Hildegard Westphal from the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen, ends on 20 November in Mindelo (Cape Verde). Until then, it will stop at and chart further parts of the coral system in the canyon of the continental shelf off the coast of Mauritania. André Freiwald expects the next dives on this expedition to provide information as to whether the newly discovered ecosystem represents a single structure or whether a spatially extended living reef province exists in the southern waters.

The samples documented and permanently fixed during the voyage by Dr. Claudia Wienberg (MARUM, University of Bremen) and the Italian expert on corals, Dr. Marco Taviani (CNR-ISMAR, Bologna) will then be further investigated in the home laboratories.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Rare cold water coral ecosystem discovered off coast of Mauritania." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 November 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101113165319.htm>.
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. (2010, November 15). Rare cold water coral ecosystem discovered off coast of Mauritania. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101113165319.htm
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Rare cold water coral ecosystem discovered off coast of Mauritania." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101113165319.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

AP (July 21, 2014) — New Orleans is the first U.S. city to participate in a large-scale recycling effort for cigarette butts. The city is rolling out dozens of containers for smokers to use when they discard their butts. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) — A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spectacular Lightning Storm Hits London

Spectacular Lightning Storm Hits London

AFP (July 19, 2014) — A spectaCular lightning storm struck the UK overnight Friday. Images of lightning strikes over the Shard and Tower Bridge in central London. Duration: 00:23 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

AFP (July 19, 2014) — As if it weren't enough that the Queen is the Sovereign of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms, she is also the owner of all Britain's unmarked swans. Duration: 02:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins