Coral gardens in UK waters!


Five previously undiscovered cold-water coral reefs were found in the deep waters off north-west Scotland during a recent research survey commissioned by JNCC.

A white glass sponge with brittlestars surrounded by the coral Lophelia pertusa and gorgonians on Anton Dohrn seamount. © JNCC 2009

For the first time, these five colourful coral reefs, teeming with strange and beautiful creatures, were captured on film.


In July this year, four staff from JNCC’s marine team spent four weeks at sea exploring two Areas of Search for offshore Special Areas of Conservation, as part of JNCC’s offshore Natura survey programme.  One of these areas was Anton Dohrn seamount, an extinct underwater volcano rising more than 2,100m from the seabed, reaching its summit at a depth of 600m. This ancient volcano is in striking contrast to the surrounding flat seabed and creates ideal conditions for an abundance of fish, coral and sponges.  The second area was around the eastern edge of Rockall Bank, where there are steep cliffs and pinnacles, shrouded in cold-water coral reefs with pink/purple brittlestars and yellow sponges.


JNCC worked with its contract partners the British Geological Survey, the University of Plymouth and Marin Mätteknick AB, and used state-of-the-art technology to map the seafloor in two of the least studied areas of our seas.  Camera equipment was then lowered over a mile beneath the survey vessel to capture stunning high-resolution images of the life below.  Neil Golding, JNCC’s Offshore Data and Survey Manager said “Capturing these images over a mile down wasn’t easy, but they’re essential evidence needed to demonstrate these rare habitats that exist in the deep waters off our coast”.  As well as dense thickets of delicate and ornate sea fans, the reefs were formed by hard corals, similar to those that built Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In addition to the abundant corals, a wide range of animals, including sea urchins, basket stars, orange feather stars, yellow sponges and fish, were seen living on these reefs.


Despite having to run for cover to St Kilda in advance of a violent Atlantic storm heading in their direction, the survey team completed the work.  Scientific analysis of thousands of images and many hours of video footage will now commence; a final report will be available from JNCC in March 2010.  You can find out more details of the survey on our Marine Protected Sites web page   



Neil Golding

Offshore Data and Survey Manager

Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866840