Scientists have filmed Britain’s largest underwater mountain and have discovered populations of deep-sea corals flourishing at depths they didn’t expect them to.
A submersible robot plumbed the north Atlantic sea as low as 1,600metres to explore the extinct, subsea volcano of the Hebrides Terrace Seamount, which is taller than Ben Nevis.
According to the marine biologists, from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, the Hebrides Terrace Seamount reaches a height of 1,400metres underwater and theirs was the first ever visual survey of it.
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The scientists were surprised to find that the corals were surviving the naturally corrosive seawater, though their existence is threatened by higher levels of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, acidifying the waters further.
Fragile coral reefs are vulnerable to the changes experienced by the oceans as a result of climate change and could wither away as the sea becomes more corrosive.
The team, led by Professor J Roberts at Heriot-Watt University, said that they had identified over 100 different species on the steep slopes of the mountain, including some that were a surprise.
“As well as the corals that form little reef patches, we saw things like black corals and bamboo corals,” he told the BBC.
The corals also support the vast array of marine life, such as deepsea skates, a diamond shaped fish, which lays eggs on them.
“These were some of the most exciting surveys we’ve ever carried out at sea,” Prof Roberts added.
“We had spent almost a month at sea before we surveyed the Hebrides Terrace Seamount and it was so different from the other sites we examined.
“Now we need to get back to these sites to work out how these corals are able to survive in these harsh conditions.
“In the meantime it’s very promising to see this important place included as one of Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas.”
The team's work was published in the journey Scientific Reports.
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