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Evidence of Coral reefs in the Irish Sea

08/10/2012 15:55:02

Pieces of coral dredged up from the Irish Sea.  Johnny Woodlock

By Johnny Woodlock of the Sea Fishery advisory Group - Irish seal sanctuary

October 2012. A number of years ago an ex commercial trawler skipper, who had over twenty years experience working in the Irish Sea, told me that he had once found coral in his nets. When he told me that he still had a piece of it in his shed, I asked if he would show it to me.

Coldwater coral
He showed me a small piece of coral which he said he had trawled up about twenty years previously, approximately fifteen miles off the Irish coast. Following a bit of research I was able to identify the coral as Lophelia pertusa, a coldwater coral more usually associated with deeper water, and not previously associated with the Irish Sea.

Realising the significance of this find I notified the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Marine Institute. The Marine Institute confirmed my identification. Neither body was aware of Lophelia being present in the Irish Sea.

In August 2012 the same fisherman told me that he had seen a similar piece of coral in the house of a friend, also a retired trawlerman. He was able to access this new piece and I photographed it and could identify it as another piece of Lophelia pertusa. We were able to establish the co-ordinates where both pieces had been hauled aboard and these have been forwarded to the Marine Institute.

Trawlers typically pull their nets for hours before hauling them up but the first piece had fouled the net so the fisherman is confident that the co-ordinates are accurate.

Area has been heavily trawled
Hopefully the Marine Institute will find evidence of living coral in this area. Unfortunately the majority of the area in question has been heavily trawled by larger boats pulling heavier nets for a number of years.

This reflects a report written in 1837 which refers to corals off the Isle of Man which fishermen believed were used by Herring as spawning grounds, however local fishermen blamed trawlers for "injuring the ground by scraping it quite smooth". This report also quotes anecdotal evidence of two coral banks on the Eastern side of the Isle of Man, in about sixteen fathoms of water.

Johnny Woodlock, Sea fishery Advisory Group , Irish Seal Sanctuary, Skerries.

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