An expedition has been led aboard the RSS James Cook, 200km off the west coast of Scotland, to the UK’s largest underwater mountains. Using robotic submersibles, scientists were able to dive more than 2,000m underwater to investigate the four seamounts. The mountains are teeming with life and the video footage captured shows a plethora of fish, including lepidions and chimaeras which are related to sharks, and crustaceans, including shrimps and deep-sea crabs. Populations of deep-sea corals were also found. The life found in the seamounts is thought to include many species which are yet undiscovered by science.
The expedition lasted six weeks and was run by the Deep Links project team, consisting of the Universities of Plymouth and Oxford, the British Geological Survey and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.
The largest of the four underwater mountains, Anton Dohrn, is said to be larger than Ben Nevis. They stand at 1,700m and 1,344m respectively.
The mountains had previously been investigated back in 2005, but developments in technology now allow for much more thorough analysis, including more high definition footage of the life there. Scientists used a Remotely Operated Vehicle, ROV, which they were able to control from the deck of RSS James Cook. The ROV is able to take photos and video whilst also collecting samples to be returned to the ship. Another robot, Autosub 6000, was also deployed to record a map of the mountains.
It is said that the coral reefs discovered by the team stretch kilometres wide and that it will take months for the footage and samples collected to be properly analysed.
Although most of the seamounts are Marine Protected Areas, signs of human impact such as litter were still found and scientists also remain concerned about how climate change could impact the area in the future.
It is said to be very exciting and under-appreciated that the United Kingdom has its own coral reefs and such an exciting array of deep-sea life and activity.
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