WHEN most people think of coral they conjure up images of beautifully clear and strikingly blue tropical waters – not the grey, chilly seas off Scotland.
But Scottish Government scientists have discovered a new family and species of deep water soft coral in the deep waters to the west of Scotland.
The coral was discovered by a team of Scottish Government scientists, in collaboration with renowned coral expert Dr Pablo Lopez-Gonzalez from the University of Seville.
Scientists say that the discovery demonstrates that there is still much to learn about the deep sea surrounding our coasts.
Specimens were recovered from the continental slopes and plains of the Rockall Trough at depths of up to 2000 meters over a period of almost a decade up to 2019.
Due to their appearance, the coral was initially thought to be part of a pre-existing family of seapens known as Umbellula.
However, genetic results supported by microscopic study revealed them to be a completely new species in a family unknown to science.
The new species has been formally named Pseudumbellula Scotiae. In honour of the Scottish Government’s Marine Research Vessel Scotia and its contributions to science and conservation in our deep waters.
Environment and Land Reform Minister Mairi McAllan said: “This is an important and exciting discovery made by combining traditional and modern scientific techniques and I would like to congratulate the teams involved.
“This work suggests that sub-sea biodiversity is far more diverse than previously believed and demonstrates that international co-operation is vital to increasing our understanding of the natural world. I am delighted that Scottish Government marine scientists are playing a key role in this across the global arena.
“Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems on the planet and we are committed to protecting and safeguarding them for future generations.”
In the discovery, scientists also highlighted the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a key tool in conservation efforts.
McAllan continued: “Marine Protected Area (MPA) status is an important way to ensure protection of some of the most vulnerable species and habitats.
“Our MPA networks includes sites for the protection of biodiversity and demonstrates sustainable management and covers around 37% of our seas – exceeding the new global target of 30% by 2030.”
The new discovery may lead academics to revise older studies of deep sea animal diversity.