University College Cork (UCC) scientists have identified the possible recovery of marine biodiversity in one of Ireland's only marine reserves in Co Cork.
Lough Hyne is located nearly 5km southwest of Skibbereen in West Cork and is connected to the Atlantic ocean by a narrow shallow channel.
Scientists from around the world study the Lough as the conditions allow for the study of one of the most poorly studied ecosystems in the world-the ocean's mesophotic zone.
This zone is rarely studied as it is too deep for scuba divers but above the levels examined by underwater robots, said Professor of Marine Biology at UCC, Rob McAllen.
Between 2010 and 2018, a marked decline in marine sponges in this zone has been identified by researchers with concerns raised about the impact on biodiversity.
Research by Prof McAllen and Victoria University of Wellington's Professor James Bell showed that the population of marine sponges in the lough shrank by half in those eight years.
“It's difficult to be certain what caused the change, whether it was a natural event or the result of human activities,” said Prof McAllen.
However recent surveys show there have been signs of a potential natural recovery of the affected species.
New long-term monitoring stations showed that the sponges are starting to grow again and will help researchers better monitor Lough Hyne.
“To our knowledge, the sudden disappearance of sponge gardens on this scale has never happened in the lough before.
"Our new surveys will help us better manage Lough Hyne, but also other deep-sea ecosystems across the world,” said Prof Bell.
This research was first published in the academic journal, Science of the Total Environment and the Department of Local Government, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service funded the monitoring stations for the study.