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An integrative approach to biodiversity conservation and sustainability in a submarine canyon

3 Jun 2022

John Appah's paper was recently published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. Read all about it here!

To predict and prepare for future events in the cold-water coral ecosystem in the Porcupine Bank Canyon and Porcupine Seabight, we must appreciate the past and understand the happenings of the present times.  Achieving this task, requires an integrative and multidisciplinary approach, which is the bases of the research works conducted in the MGRG (  

The cold-water corals (CWCs) of the Porcupine Bank Canyon (PBC) are refugial deep ocean corals in the NE Atlantic, as the PBC serves as a refuge for cold-water corals (Luke O’Reilly; pers. comm.).  Unlike past cold and glacial environmental conditions when current speeds slowed down (O’Reilly et al., 2022), today, the corals seem to be thriving (Appah et al., 2020) under optimal current regimes (Lim et al., 2020), with apparently healthy and happy corals with low pathogen groups observed (Appah et al., in press) in the corals in this important submarine canyon refugium.  

However, we must not be complacent yet about the healthy and thriving nature of the cold-water corals in the PBC as there seem to be a striking similarity in the past and contemporary ocean dynamics and processes between the PBC and the Porcupine Seabight (PS) (O’Reilly et al., 2022), where the cold-water corals facies and its associated marine organisms appear to be changing rapidly due to changing environmental conditions and climate change (Boolukos et al., 2019; Lim et al., 2018).  It is also probable that anthropogenic activities such as trawl fishing and marine litter (Appah et al., 2022) contributed to the decline in biodiversity in the PS.  It has been observed that bottom fishing is a common practice on the cold-water corals in the PBC and poses a threat to the coral ecosystem. 

As such, we continue to monitor the cold-water coral ecosystem in the PBC temporally on a short-term bases (4-20 years period) and spatially to quantify the changes and factors that may have contributed to the changes that will be observed (part of Felix and Alicia’s work in the PBC).  We hope to improve the data collection process and the database by acquiring more sophisticated equipment.  The group will hopefully embark on another survey (following the survey lines in Appah et al., 2020 and beyond), with prof Andy Wheeler as chief scientist and group leader, into the PBC to assess this temporary short term biodiversity changes.  



Appah, J., Lynch, S., Lim, A., O'Riordan, R., O'Reilly, L., de Oliveira, L., Wheeler, A.J., in press.  Health screening of the reef forming scleractinian cold-water corals Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata in a remote submarine canyon on the European continental margin, NE Atlantic. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.

Appah, J.K.M., Killeen, O., Lim, A., O'Riordan, R., O'Reilly, L., Wheeler, A.J., 2022.  Accumulation of marine litter in cold-water coral habitats: A comparative study of two Irish Special Areas of Conservation, NE Atlantic. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 180, p.113764.

O’Reilly, L.,, A., Jürgen, T., Niamh, M., O'Connor, O.J., John, A., Fentimen, R., Butschek, F., Kimberley, H., Torsten, V., Wheeler, A.J., 2022.  Using novel methods to track British and Irish Ice Sheet dynamics since the Late Pleistocene, along the west Porcupine Bank, NE Atlantic. Quaternary Science Reviews, 284, p.107463.

Lim, A., Wheeler, A.J., Price, D.M., O’Reilly, L., Harris, K., Conti, L., 2020.  Influence of benthic currents on cold-water coral habitats: a combined benthic monitoring and 3D photogrammetric investigation. Scientific Reports, 10(1), pp.1-15.

Appah, J.K.M., Lim, A., Harris, K., O’Riordan, R., O’Reilly, L., Wheeler, A.J., 2020.  Are non-reef habitats as important to benthic diversity and composition as coral reef and rubble habitats in submarine canyons? analysis of controls on benthic megafauna distribution in the Porcupine Bank Canyon, NE Atlantic. Frontiers in Marine Science, p.831.

Boolukos, C.M., Lim, A., O’Riordan, R.M., Wheeler, A.J., 2019.  Cold-water corals in decline–A temporal (4 year) species abundance and biodiversity appraisal of complete photomosaiced cold-water coral reef on the Irish Margin. Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 146, pp.44-54.

Lim, A., Kane, A., Arnaubec, A., Wheeler, A.J., 2018.  Seabed image acquisition and survey design for cold water coral mound characterisation. Marine Geology, 395, pp.22-32.

Marine Geosciences Research Group

University College Cork

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, North Mall Campus, University College Cork, North Mall, Cork City, T23 TK30