LopheliaThe term ‘reef’ comes from an old Norse seafaring term ‘rif’ - a submerged structure rising from the seafloor that’s hazardous to shipping. These structures might be rock ridges, sandbanks or tropical coral reefs. Reefs create distinctive patches on the seafloor that trap sands and mud. Over time they develop to form structures rising from the surrounding seafloor that provide habitat for other species.

As cold-water coral reefs form at great depths they obviously do not represent a navigational hazard, but they do meet other criteria by which we define a reef. This is born out in legal as well as scientific definitions of the term. For example, the European Union’s Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC, 1996) states a reef can be a submarine, biogenic concretion which arises from the seafloor and which supports a community of animals. The cold-water corals, Lophelia pertusa, Goniocorella dumosa, Oculina varicosa and Solenosmilia variabilis all form reefs according to this definition.

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