New deep-sea coral discovered

Mar 05, 2009
This five-foot tall yellow bamboo coral, standing in 4,787 feet of water, represents a new species and establishes a new genus of bamboo corals. (Credit: Hawaii Deep-Sea Coral Expedition 2007/NOAA)

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists identified seven new species of bamboo coral discovered on a NOAA-funded mission in the deep waters of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Six of these species may represent entirely new genera, a remarkable feat given the broad classification a genus represents. A genus is a major category in the classification of organisms, ranking above a species and below a family. Scientists expect to identify more new species as analysis of samples continues.

"These discoveries are important, because deep-sea corals support diverse seafloor ecosystems and also because these corals may be among the first marine organisms to be affected by ocean acidification," said Richard Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA's assistant administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. Ocean acidification is a change in ocean chemistry due to excess carbon dioxide. Researchers have seen adverse changes in marine life with calcium-carbonate shells, such as corals, because of acidified ocean water.

"Deep-sea bamboo corals also produce growth rings much as trees do, and can provide a much-needed view of how deep ocean conditions change through time," said Spinrad.

This orange bamboo coral is another new species and new genus found in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. It is between four and five feet tall, and was found 5,745 feet below the surface. (Credit: Hawaii Deep-Sea Coral Expedition 2007/NOAA)

Rob Dunbar, a Stanford University scientist, was studying long-term climate data by examining long-lived corals. "We found live, 4,000-year-old corals in the Monument - meaning 4,000 years worth of information about what has been going on in the deep ocean interior."

"Studying these corals can help us understand how they survive for such long periods of time as well as how they may respond to climate change in the future," said Dunbar.

Among the other findings were a five-foot tall yellow bamboo coral tree that had never been described before, new beds of living deepwater coral and sponges, and a giant sponge scientists dubbed the "cauldron sponge," approximately three feet tall and three feet across. Scientists collected two other sponges which have not yet been analyzed but may represent new species or genera as well.

The mission also discovered a "coral graveyard" covering about 10,000 square feet on a seamount's summit, more than 2,000 feet deep. Scientists estimated the death of the community occurred several thousand to potentially more than a million years ago, but did not know why the community died. The species of coral had never been recorded in Hawaii before, according a Smithsonian Institution coral expert they consulted.

Finding new species was not an express purpose of the research mission, but Dunbar and Christopher Kelley, a scientist with the University of Hawaii, both collected specimens that looked unusual. Kelley's objective was to locate and predict locations of high density deep-sea coral beds in the Monument. NOAA scientist Frank Parrish also led a portion of the mission, focusing on growth rates of deep-sea corals.

The three-week research mission ended in November 2007, but analysis of specimens is ongoing. "The potential for more discoveries is high, but these deep-sea corals are not protected everywhere as they are here, and can easily be destroyed," said Kelley.

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument has more deep water than any other U.S. protected area, with more than 98 percent below SCUBA-diving depths and only accessible to submersibles. The Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, sponsored by NOAA and the University of Hawaii, piloted the Pisces V submersible from a research vessel to the discovery sites, between 3300 and 4200 feet deep.

Provided by NOAA

Explore further: Estuaries protect Dungeness crabs from deadly parasites

Related Stories

Grazing fish can help save imperiled coral reefs

14 hours ago

Grazing fish can help save coral reefs, but not all grazers are created equal, according to a Florida International University study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series. ...

Scientists go high-tech to study fragile cold-water reefs

May 06, 2015

Coral reefs are generally associated with warm, shallow and crystal-clear waters in the tropics. Other species of coral, however, flourish in the deep cold ocean where they also form large reefs. Now researchers ...

Recommended for you

Estuaries protect Dungeness crabs from deadly parasites

30 minutes ago

Parasitic worms can pose a serious threat to the Dungeness crab, a commercially important fishery species found along the west coast of North America. The worms are thought to have caused or contributed to ...

An evolutionary heads-up—the brain size advantage

1 hour ago

A larger brain brings better cognitive performance. And so it seems only logical that a larger brain would offer a higher survival potential. In the course of evolution, large brains should therefore win ...

Our bond with dogs may go back more than 27,000 years

23 hours ago

Dogs' special relationship to humans may go back 27,000 to 40,000 years, according to genomic analysis of an ancient Taimyr wolf bone reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 21. Earlier genome ...

Social structure 'helps birds avoid a collision course'

May 21, 2015

The sight of skilful aerial manoeuvring by flocks of Greylag geese to avoid collisions with York's Millennium Bridge intrigued mathematical biologist Dr Jamie Wood. It raised the question of how birds collectively ...

Orchid seductress ropes in unsuspecting males

May 21, 2015

A single population of a rare hammer orchid species known as a master of sexual deception appears to have recently evolved to seduce a new and wider-spread species of impressionable male wasps.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Necrophage
not rated yet Mar 05, 2009
If any of you check out Peter Watts' "Starfish" saga, you will gain an even greater appreciation for the awesome potential and diversity of deepsea life. Not for the faint of heart, though.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.