Ireland to protect coral reefs

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Coral reefs off the Irish coast are set to receive protection and will be classed as "national treasures" by the government.

Coral reefs off the Irish coast are set to receive protection and will be classed as "national treasures" by the government.

The reefs are set to become some of the first in the EU protected through their designation as Special Areas of Conservation under new directives.

The cold water corals live in deep water and, in some areas, have formed mounds several hundred metres high through the depostion of old calcium deposits, much in the same way as tropical reef building corals.

The reefs which occur around 80-240 km off the coast in waters of up to 1200m deep are set to be mapped and studied further shortly.

After much political and environmental wrangling, a series of deepwater coral reefs off Scotland, the Darwin Mounds were finally granted protection last year. However, the unique reef environment had already suffered serious damage through the actions of trawlers operating in the area.