Greenock, Scotland: One of the oldest and least explored habitats on earth is due to be explored by Greenpeace and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).
The Mingulay coral reef complex lies off the west of Scotland in about 150 metres of water and, despite the fact that it may have existed for thousands of years, scientists know little about it or the wildlife it supports.
Using remotely operated vehicles – essentially small, unmanned submarines – scientists onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza will study, sample and document the reef and the numerous species it is thought to host.
An onboard aquarium will allow scientists to closely examine small samples taken from the ocean floor.
During the expedition, which sets off from Greenock, near Glasgow, today (12 May), scientists will also be looking for any evidence of damage to the reef, including any that may have been caused by fishing nets dragged across the ocean floor.
Although the extent of any damage to the Mingulay reef is currently unknown, coral habitats around the world face many threats, particularly from destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling.
Greenpeace scientist David Santillo said: “Parts of the Mingulay reef complex could be as much as ten thousand years old, yet, like so many marine habitats worldwide, we know virtually nothing about it or its importance to marine life.
“Greenpeace is currently campaigning for a UN moratorium on high seas bottom trawling which would allow the time for this kind of research to be carried out around the world, so that informed decisions can be made about how to protect these fragile footholds for ocean wildlife.”
SAMS scientist Dr Murray Roberts said: “We have been interested in this area since the late 1990s but we only mapped out the reefs off Mingulay two years ago. We are very excited to have the chance to explore these complex habitats using a robotic submarine. We hope the information we gather will keep us busy for months to come.”
Also onboard the Esperanza will be Dr John Wilson, a marine scientist who was first to dive on the reef almost 30 years ago.
In the last few years a research initiative led by SAMS has begun mapping the reef. This joint expedition is a key contribution to further scientific knowledge of one of the UK’s most significant, though barely studied, natural marine features.
Note to editors:
Last year, over 1,000 of the world’s most prominent scientists called for a moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas in order to protect coral reefs and marine wildlife.
To read accounts of the expedition and watch a short video please refer to the Greenpeace website.