Extensive coral reefs have been found off the southern coast of Iceland, RÚV reports. Some of these have been significantly damaged by fishing gear, but scientists are hopeful of finding intact, healthy coral in nearby areas.
Icelandic scientists have been consulting with ship captains regarding areas where coral reefs might be found around Iceland since around 2000 and have spent the intervening decades comprehensively mapping the seabed floor off the country’s coasts. In so doing, they found vast coral reefs to the south, out from Reykjanesskaga peninsula, and also to the west.
“These are deep-sea coral,” explained marine biologist Steinunn Hilma Ólafsdóttir. “They prefer colder seas, are found deeper. The coral we have here around Iceland are found at a depth of 200-600 metres (656-1,968ft) and are, in reality, the same type of coral, stony coral [Scleractinia]. But these corals here around Iceland are carnivores, they don’t utilise sunlight like the corals in Australia do.”
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been subject to significant damage due to rising sea temperatures, which is not currently thought to be a risk for coral reefs around Iceland. Instead, the local reefs have to face an entirely different problem: damage from fishing gear. Some fishing grounds around coral reef beds have been closed in order to protect them and, with luck, continued seabed mapping will help scientists better identify areas where coral reefs are prevalent.
“We’ve seen areas that are ruined, if you can put it that way,” remarked Steinunn Hilma. “Completely destroyed because they’re located in fishing grounds. But we’ve also since seen coral areas that are incredibly beautiful – large and expansive coral areas with big coral reefs.”