Cash lacking to explore Hiiumaa's corals

Helen Mihelson
, reporter
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Led by Estonian Maritime Institute, University of Tartu, unique reliefs were discovered in sea near Hiiumaa, sprawling on hundreds of square metres and resembling coral reefs. Are these indeed coral formations and even prehistoric as initially assessed? For lack of funds, this remains to be seen. 

Potentially, the discovery is a milestone – first observations point to the formations at 60 metres of depth to be remains of prehistoric coral reef. At that, the first such as currently known.  

Meanwhile, the initial marking is not enough and further explorations are badly needed. That costs money which isn’t easy to find.

«With no such project currently underway where relevant activity would be prescribed, nothing can actually be explored. There are not funds for research specifically for new finds,» Postimees was told by University of Tartu senior maritime biology research fellow Kristjan Herkül, present at the discovery.  

Further research into the reliefs will mean open sea explorations which are costly and require lengthy preparation. One does not just go out there – one needs a ship, and technical divers able to get samples from such depths. 

While top science and finds with practical application value get more attention, such «interesting natural phenomena» usually fail to find financing.

While Mr Herkül was unable to cite a total sum, he knows of an expedition currently planned to the region by University of Tartu maritime biology faculty. Price offers for that have been asked, but the timing is yet unknown. An expedition of that kind does cost thousands of euros.

Acquiring samples of the formations is vital as this will give an understanding what exactly we have down there. Further research would provide insight regarding origin, composition and age.

«This being the first finding, all information is needed. What we have now is a bit of video material,» he said. Therefore, it cannot be excluded that it is not a prehistoric coral formation but a concretion or iron mangane.

The finding came to be as part of outdoor explorations within a project called NEMA. The sea bottom investigated remains to be thoroughly mapped. The bottom was searched with multi-beam sonar and underwater robot.  

The NEMA project – Inventory and development of monitoring programme for nature values in Estonian marine areas – was financed by Environmental Investment Centre and environment ministry and spanned nearly two years.