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New Coral Species Found in Hawaiian Waters

July 1, 2015, 10:07 AM HST (Updated July 1, 2015, 10:07 AM) · 0 Comments
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A new species of black coral has been located at depths of 1,000 to 1,600 feet throughout the Hawaiian Islands, as well as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, according to a recent study conducted by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The findings were published in the scientific journal Zootaxa.

“We know so little about the deep sea that most times we do not even know what to call the species that live there,” says PMNM Research Specialist Daniel Wagner, Ph.D. “Describing and assigning names to new species is an important first step to facilitate future research on these important yet greatly understudied organisms.”

HURL. Image courtesy of NOAA/HURL/Chris Kelley.

HURL. Image courtesy of NOAA/HURL/Chris Kelley.

When it was initially found, the black coral was misidentified as a species from the Mediterranean Sea. Later, the coral was determined to be a distinct species after being compared to actual specimens collected in the Mediterranean. Under its distinct species, scientists named it Leiopathes annosa. Specimens of the coral were collected by the Hawai’i Undersea Research Lab from the Pisces research submersible. They were later deposited in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. They will remain at the locations for future studies.

PMNM officials say deep-water corals form growth rings that help to determine their age. Based on high-resolution radiocarbon measurements on the growth rings of specific black coral, scientists have been able to determine that the species, Leiopathes annosa, can live more than 4,000 years. The extent of its lifetime makes this species of coral the longest-lived marine organism to date.

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“This research emphasizes how much can be learned from studying deep and pristine environments such as those found in the remote Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, of which only a small fraction has been explored,” says Wagner.

To learn more about the species, you can review the published study, “Description of a new species of Leiopathes (Antipatharia: Leiopathidae) from the Hawaiian Islands,” at this website.

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