"For Madeira it is certainly unheard of," said Rui Caldeira, director of the OOM, noting that it is "very common to see such a large concentration of coral species in the deep sea," such as has been found off Ribeira Brava, a municipality west of Funchal.

The OOM has a project financed by Eeuropean Regional Development Funds (ERDF) and part of this project aims to go out to sea to collect new information, following an oceanographic campaign conducted in 2017 that focused essentially on the coastal zone of the island of Madeira. This campaign ended in July of this year.

Working together« with the Hydrographic Institute and the Mission Structure for the Extension of the Continental Shelf the Luso Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) was used to study and explore the ocean aboard Portuguese naval ship NRP Almirante Gago Coutinho.

"It was during the afternoon of 5 July, 2018 that the Luso ROV made its first dive south of Madeira Island. After 1 hour and 30 minutes of descent, the Luso ROV set off on the abyssal plain, about 2,000 metres deep, off Ribeira Brava," Caldeira said.

After being manouevred near the bottom, "the team of researchers found for the first time in the region a big concentration of deep sea corals, species with great ecological value and [which are] important climate indicators," he said.

He stressed that despite not being a coral specialist in corals, he can say, however, that this discovery is, "a good indicator of environmental quality on the one hand, and as they have a skeleton of calcium carbonate they have many signatures of climate change, and are an important indicator of ecosystem health."

Caldeira also said that "the photos collected by the Luso ROV off Ribeira Brava reveal the diversity of shapes and colours of these corals in these areas [that are] completely devoid of light (aphotic), as well as the complex ecosystems that they display around them."

According to the official, the scientific collection work will continue in order to understand the diversity of the system, by a team made up of Portuguese researchers.