GALWAY, Ireland, May 26 (UPI) -- Irish scientists say they have discovered a major coral reef off Ireland's west coast covering approximately 77 square miles in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Researchers from the National University of Ireland and the French Institute of Research for the Exploitation of the Sea, led by NUI marine ecologist Anthony Grehan, said the reef includes about 40 carbonate mounts, some rising as high as 328 feet above the sea floor.
"These are by far the most pristine, thriving and hence spectacular examples of cold-water coral reefs that I've encountered in almost 10 years of study in Irish waters," said Grehan. "There is also evidence of recent recruitment of corals and many other reef animals in the area suggesting this area is an important source of larvae supply to other areas …"
The study is part of a pan-European project funded by the European Commission to study interactions among corals, fish and fisheries.
Grehan said vulnerable marine ecosystems such as coral reefs represent one of the last untapped reservoirs of potentially useful bio-compounds that might support the development of new anti-viral or anti-bacterial pharmaceuticals.