Scientists from the University of Malta have discovered an area of coral mounds off Marsascala that is 10 times the size of Comino.
Several organisms living on these mounds are endangered and protected by international law, but regrettably, some mounds have been damaged by anchors or fishing trawlers.
On Tuesday, Scientists from the Department of Geosciences called on the authorities to urgently declare the seafloor hosting these mounds as a Marine Special Area of Conservation. A statement revealed that the scientists found over 1,500 enigmatic mounds.
The density of the rocky outcrops with a mounded shape was ‘unparalleled and definitely not what we would have expected in this part of the Mediterranean Sea,’ lead scientist Aaron Micallef remarked. ‘Most similar structures we know of are from tropical waters and are quite different from the ones we found offshore Malta.’
These mounds, which are roughly 20m wide and can reach a height of several metres, occur in dense clusters at seafloor depths ranging between 60 and 120m. However, the origin of these mounds remains unclear, though they were possibly formed by either seepage of groundwater or wave action when sea level was lower in the past.
The surfaces of the mounds, which consist of fossilised algae and tubeworms, provide a home to black corals, gorgonians, colourful sea slugs and sea urchins. Or Bialik, a Marie Curie Fellow and lead author of the study added that the delicate organisms grow slowly over hundreds and even thousands of years.
This study was funded by Marie Curie Actions and involved scientists from the University of Milano Bicocca (Italy) and the National Oceanography Centre (UK).