A team of marine biologists and geologists have unveiled the first-ever set of maps detailing where vulnerable deep-sea habitats including cold water coral reefs and sponge fields are likely to be found in the North East Atlantic.

The team from Plymouth University, the Marine Biological Association, and the British Geological Survey, have used complex modelling techniques to chart a surface area more than three times the size of the UK’s terrestrial boundaries.
The first stage of the Mapping of the Deep project – led by the University, and financed by the BBC Wildlife Fund, and the Oak Foundation – has also enabled researchers to ascertain the proportion of our coral reefs and sponge beds that would be covered by the proposed network of Marine Protected Areas.
This project will provide marine environmental managers with accurate maps on which to make decisions about where human activity such as fishing and mining can be safely conducted, and where Marine Protected Areas should be located. The maps will also help us learn more about our deep-sea habitats – which ones are rare, and which are most vulnerable to human activity.
The mapping the deep project uses state of the art equipment such as multibeam and Remotely Operated Vehicles, combined with modelling techniques to look at the different habitats in the deep-sea and the environmental conditions they are found under. For example, if we can show that cold water coral reefs are most likely to grow at certain depths, on rocky, sloped terrain, we can use this knowledge to predict where else might expect to find them. This is the basis if predictive habitat mapping.