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discovers new soft coral garden

in Capelinhos - Faial

As part of the scientific expedition Explosea2, a new soft coral garden was discovered in the Azores.
Located between 125 and 160 meters deep, in the Capelinhos area on the island of Faial, this new soft coral garden is an area of high biological richness.
It is the first time that an expedition organized by Spanish and Portuguese institutions has located a soft coral garden in Portuguese waters and is the first soft coral garden registered in the Azores.
The expedition aboard the ship “B / O Sarmiento de Gamboa”, promoted by the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute (IGME) in collaboration with the Mission Structure for the Extension of the Continental Shelf (EMEPC), within the scope of the EXPLOSEA project began June 11 and runs until July 27 in order to study places of interest with underwater emissions associated with volcanism.
With this objective, multibeam surveys have been carried out to acquire bathymetry, CTD profiles (salinity, temperature and pressure) and dives with the “Luso” ROV to collect water samples and high resolution videos from the areas of interest.
On board the scientific team of IGME, EMEPC, CSIC, ITER, Complutense University, University of Gottingen, HMI, IMAR of the University of the Azores discovered, through dives with the ROV “Luso”, a new soft coral garden dominated by a species of the Order Alcyonacea.
According to Luis Somoza, head of mission of the Explosea2 Expedition, “This is an extraordinary discovery because it is a coral garden formed in one of three underwater volcanic cones in the Capelinhos area and which was erupted 52 years ago, being an area relatively recent on the geological scale. It is an area rich in iron, which creates the perfect conditions for the development of an entire ecosystem, with high biological wealth, showing the importance of protecting these places. This discovery also makes it possible to assess the ecological succession of species that occurs when a major impact geological event occurs ”.
“A similar volcanic event occurred in 2011 and 2012 on El Hierro Island in the Canaries and with this discovery we now know that the same type of garden could be formed, being one of the first coral communities to grow in the area, since rigid corals depend on the availability of calcium carbonate in the water, which is less available in these areas of recent eruption. In the case of Capelinhos, in Faial, the area now discovered is already within a protected marine area, of the Parque Marinho dos Açores, and it is important to protect similar places ”.
As explained by António Calado, coordinator of the ROV Luso pilot team on board, “with the experience we have of more than 10 years of operation in the deep sea, with ROV Luso, we are able to perceive when we arrive at a special place. And this was definitely one of those places! It is to show the world places like this and to understand how they work so that we can protect them, that we work every day ”. “When we find them, we have the challenge to characterize them in the best way, either through the acquisition of data that helps to understand the specifics of that place, or through the high definition images that we acquire, trying to provide quality images that help to understand the uniqueness of the place, either by taking samples that in places like this we want to be as disturbing as possible while preserving the place and its characteristics ”.
Soft corals are colonial animals that usually grow on rocky surfaces. They do not have a rigid skeleton of calcium carbonate to support them, unlike hard corals.
Marina Carreiro-Silva, IMAR researcher at the University of the Azores, specialist in deep coral ecosystems, and a guest researcher on board, says that “this coral garden is a new type of habitat never before described, contributing to increase the knowledge of biodiversity and mapping of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the Azores within the scope of international and national projects underway in our research group. The monitoring of this site is also a unique opportunity to study the processes of biological colonization, growth and longevity of these organisms, as well as to assess the potential for natural recovery of coral communities impacted by human activities, as a parallel to a geological event ” .

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