By collaborating with a Spanish university, a team of Scottish scientists has discovered a new family and species of deep-sea soft coral off the western coast of Scotland that has been previously unknown to science. The exciting find happened at a depths of around 2,000 metres in the Rockall Trough, an elongated deep-water bathymetric depression found in the North Atlantic Ocean that is approximately 200 kilometres wide and over 2,000 metres deep.
The new species was collected by MRV Scotia, a research vessel that has conducted survey work in the deep waters off West Scotland since the 1990s. When the species was collected, it was initially thought to be part of a family of seapens known as Umbellula. But after the specimen was studied by coral expert Dr Pablo Lopez-Gonzalez from the University of Seville, it was established that the species is, in fact, entirely new to science.
The species believed to found on deep-sea plains and slopes was called Pseudumbellula. While it looks similar to Umbellula physically, it consists of a cluster of feeding polyps that sit on the tip of a slender 50 to 70 cm stem that sits in deep-sea mud with its muscular bulbous base.
“This is an important and exciting discovery made by combining traditional and modern scientific techniques and I would like to congratulate the teams involved. This work suggests that sub-sea biodiversity is far more diverse than previously believed and demonstrates that international co-operation is vital to increasing our understanding of the natural world,” said Scottish environment and land reform minister Mairi McAllan.
The new finding suggests that there is still a lot to learn about and discover in the deep-sea habitats around Scotland, while it highlights the importance of expanding Marine Protected Areas to help foster conservation of these vital ecosystems.
For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.
Photography courtesy of Unsplash & ScotGov.