LA GRACIOSA, Canary Islands, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Just as there are soaring peaks and deep, dramatic canyons and valleys atop dry land, there are also remarkable geological features hiding beneath the surface of the sea -- many of them undocumented.
Recently, scientists with Oceana, an ocean conservation organization, captured the first images of the Dacia and Tritón seamounts off the coast of the Canary Islands. And the maiden photos are spectacular. The full array of photographs can be found on Oceana's Flickr page.
"This has only been a first look at the unknown sea beds to the north of the Canary Islands," Ricardo Aguilar, the Oceana researcher leading the exploratory campaign, said in a press release. "We need to obtain more data and carry out detailed studies in order to establish protection systems to sustain the unique biodiversity of the Dacia and Tritón seamounts."
Aguilar and a team of scientists are working to map these remarkable geological features off the northwest coast of Africa. Dacia and Tritón are, in fact, part of the same mountain chain that forms the Canary Islands. The mountains also form the island of Madeira, and stretch east all the way to the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco. Some of the seamounts are actually active volcanos, which continue to grow. One volcanic mount recently added a new island to the Canary Islands.
In the wake of these initial photos, the researchers are continuing to make dives, documenting additional underwater mountain slopes. Divers have been able to explore the tops of these mountains, witnessing forests of black corals, spectacular glass sponges, as well as a plethora of deep sea fish and sharks. But the mountainsides stretch more than half a mile down. To explore this terrain, researchers are using underwater robots.
"These mountains could be considered as the 'other' Canary Islands, some of which, though now submerged, at one time rose up out of the sea," said Helena Álvarez, another marine scientist with Oceana. "Spain should study and protect these seamounts so that, together with Portugal, it could provide Europe with an extensive marine protected area where dozens of seamounts would be home to one of the richest and most diverse faunas on the planet."