We set sail from the port of Gijón at 7 in the morning and headed towards the Avilés Canyon in order to find and document the white coral. When we reach the canyon, facing Cape Peñas, almost 9 miles from the coast, we submerge the ROV and border the southern coast of the canyon.
Here, we find various colonies of white coral (Madrepora oculata) on the steep, rocky seabed at more than 200 meters depth, as well as a many sponges, anemones and gorgonians.
Discovering these colonies of white coral in deep waters is proof of the importance of this area along the coast of Asturias. The urgency to protect this type of vulnerable ecosystem is mainly due to the fact that some types of fishing gear, such as bottom trawling, threaten its survival and these colonies can take hundreds or thousands of years to form.
Javier Cristobo, an expert in sponges from the Spanish Oceanographic Institute, accompanied us on board the Ranger during the entire day, collaborating in the campaign to identify these primitive animal species in the area.
We submerged the ROV once again facing Cape Peñas, in the Somos Llungo seamount, at approximately 55 meters depth and documented the seabeds that harbour a wide variety of colourful organisms: areas full of mushroom sponges, fields comprised of grey sponges that may be Pachymatisma johnstonia or Erylus discophorus (species that cannot be differentiated unless samples are taken to identify them based on the spicules) and rocks covered in the jewel anemone Corynactis viridis.
The gorgonian Paramuricea cf grayi also occurs here, mainly distributed in warm waters (the Canary Islands, Morocco) and recently discovered off the coasts of Biscay. It may be the first time this gorgonian has been documented in waters of Asturias.
When we returned to the port of Gijón, at 16:40, we came across two Avilés trawlers coming into port as they were discarding small pelagic fish (possibly various species: hake, sardines, horse mackerel, etc.). This wasting of live resources caused by the use of non-selective fishing gear threatens the future sustainability of fisheries and causes changes in the ecosystems.