Scientists from NUI Galway have discovered a marine habitat with organisms hundreds of years old in Irish waters.

The researchers published their findings today, in the PLOS One academic journal.

Their exploration has revealed a previously hidden world, 800m below the sea surface.

The habitat was located in the Whittard Canyon, around 200km off the southwest coast.

It was found on a rock face around 150m high.

It is rich in biodiversity, with an array of bivalves and deep water oysters, co-existing with fish, crabs and coral. 

The researchers say it is extremely rare to see so many, so close and so large at such depth.

Some of the organisms are thought to be over 200 years old. 

They rely on particles from the sea surface for food. 

The scientists believe they can survive so near the sea bed because food is being channelled there by strong currents caused by the shape of the canyon.

Further examinations of the area are planned in the coming months.

The discovery was made possible by the use of a Remote Operated Vehicle from the Marine Institute, which filmed the lifeforms and gathered samples from the area in question.

The high-tech device can travel to a depth of 3,000m below the sea surface.

The research team at the Ryan Institute at NUIG was led by Dr Louise Allcock.

She said extensive mapping of the ocean floor in recent years has made discoveries like this possible.