Lophelia coral discovered in the Labrador Sea by Scientists from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography

Each year, oceanographers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) head to sea to collect and analyze oceanographic data from the continental shelf, slope, and deeper waters of the North Atlantic. The Atlantic Zone Off-Shelf Monitoring Program is a one-of-a-kind world-class research program where oceanographers monitor changes in the ocean climate and ecosystems. It was on one of these expeditions, led by DFO oceanographer Dr. Igor Yashayaev, when Lophelia, a magnificent cold-water coral, was accidentally discovered in the Labrador Sea on a steep underwater cliff nearly a kilometre below the surface and not far from Greenland.

Oceanographers were using an instrument, suspended from a wire, to measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and other important characteristics and components of seawater. When the instrument was brought back onboard there was a large piece of bubble-gum coral resting on the top of it, likely that result of a brief collision with the sea floor. Dr. Yashayaev immediately contacted fellow DFO researcher Dr. Ellen Kenchington whose specialty is corals. "They were very excited about the discovery of a large bubble-gum coral, but I was more excited by a small white coral attached to its base that I recognized as Lophelia," said Dr. Kenchington, of the BIO.

The discovery of Lophelia has sparked an ongoing international collaboration with Danish biologist, Helle Jørgensbye, who works in Greenland. "It's like discovering a rainforest in your own backyard," says Helle of the find. Scientists had always thought that this type of coral existed in the area, but they were not able to find any proof before this discovery. Together a joint research mission set out some months later to photograph this elusive reef.

Lophelia is a cold water coral that grows in deep, dark waters of the ocean. It forms large coral reefs that are filled with life. Typically, this type of coral is found in waters off Norway however, Lophelia also grows in Nova Scotia. At the Stone Fence, southeast of Cape Breton, there is a 15 square kilometre Lophelia Coral Conservation Area that has been protected since June 2004. This area is closed to all bottom fisheries, which are known to damage and, eventually, destroy coral reefs. It is hoped that given this added protection the reef complex will be able to thrive in the ocean.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been supporting the protection of coral and sponges since the early 2000 era, before international policy was introduced by the UN. "We didn't know where the coral was initially, therefore, we weren't able to make recommendations for its protection", said Dr. Kenchington. "Now that we know where the coral is we are able to study and protect it more effectively."