In the depths of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which surrounds ten Hawaiian islands, scientists discovered seven new species of bamboo coral. Supported by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the discoveries are even more surprising in that six of the seven species may represent entirely new genus of coral.
“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, NOAA’s assistant administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.
Caused by excess carbon dioxide, ocean acidification leads to changes in the ocean’s chemistry which deteriorates and kills coral reefs.
“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,” adds Spinrad.
Rob Dunbar, a Stanford University scientist, studies climate by examining deep sea corals that have survived thousands of year. “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,” said Dunbar. “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.”
Spreading over 140,000 square miles (360,000 square kilometers) Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas. Ninety-eight percent of its area is only accessible to underwater submersibles. The discovery of the coral was achieved by the submersible vessel, Pisces V, which visited sites between 3300 and 4200 feet below the surface.
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