Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Finds in Newfoundland: discoveries in cold Canadian depths

One often thinks of near-Arctic waters as not a likely environment for corals and sponges - or for much else for that matter. And if it's deep, when we think of life, we think of thermal vents and the temperatures and nutrients that spawn unusual species.

And yet, scientists and researchers from the Canadian Fisheries Department, Canadian and Spanish universities have discovered new coral and sponge species off the coast of Newfoundland - species whose coloration and beauty would befit a tropical reef.

Using a robotic submersible (ROV), the researchers plumbed the depths as deep as 9,800 feet (3 km) in an area protected by the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization. At these deep depths, species of coral, like gorgonian sea fans, grow extremely large (over 3 feet in height) and provide shelter for sealife and even protection from currents - much like trees.

As reported in the Montreal Gazette, according to Fisheries Department scientist Ellen Kenchington, “It’s a similar function a tree would serve in the forest, cutting down wind, providing branches for birds. We have the same type of communities that take shelter down there.”

As the researchers continue their work for the next few weeks, they will be assessing the condition of this protected area to determine whether additional sanctions are needed in other areas to better insure that populations of commercial fish remain at sustainable levels.

Click here to view a slide presentation of fascinating deep sea creatures.

Read article in Montreal Gazette. Photos by HANDOUT, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

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