- Researchers have found a new species of bright red coral in Hannibal Bank, an underwater seamount off Panama’s Pacific coast.
- The new coral, Thesea dalioi, is only the second known species of Thesea found in the eastern Pacific, the researchers say.
- Researchers named the new coral after Ray Dalio, a U.S. philanthropist and hedge fund manager whose foundation supports ocean exploration.
- The reefs on Hannibal Bank, where T. dalioi was discovered, occur in low-light environments that are thought to be fragile habitats made of a high diversity of corals, algae and sponges.
Marine ecologists have described a bright-red species of coral from Panama that’s new to science.
The researchers found the coral growing at a depth of 45 to 50 meters (148 to 164 feet) in Hannibal Bank, a coastal seamount 60 kilometers (37 miles) off Panama’s Pacific coast. The bank, which researchers have only started to explore, is part of Coiba National Park, a marine reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The newly described coral belongs to the genus Thesea, a group that includes 27 known coral species. The new species, Thesea dalioi, is only the second known species of Thesea discovered in the eastern Pacific, researchers say in a new study published in the Bulletin of Marine Science. The only other known species in the eastern Pacific, T. variabilis, has been reported off Isla del Coco, Costa Rica, and La Jolla, California.
These two species differ considerably. T. variabilis has light brown or whitish, sparsely branched colonies, for example, while the newly described T. dalioi is bright red with bushy, branched colonies.
While Thesea is currently represented by two species in the eastern Pacific Ocean, more species have been recently collected and are being analyzed, the researchers say.
“After just two expeditions using submersibles down to 300 meters [984 feet], we have identified 17 species of octocorals for the Hannibal Bank, including the discovery and description of three new species,” co-author Héctor M. Guzmán, a marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI), said in a statement.
Guzmán and colleagues named the coral Thesea dalioi after Ray Dalio, a U.S. philanthropist and hedge fund manager whose foundation supports ocean exploration. “This new species recognizes Ray Dalio’s important contributions to marine research and his dedication to inspire public audiences through increased understanding of the ocean realm,” the authors wrote in the study.
Coiba National Park, where Hannibal Bank is located, protects Coiba Island, 38 smaller islands and surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriquí. Both the islands and the waters around them are known to harbor “an exceptionally high level of endemism for mammals, birds and plants,” according to UNESCO. The waters are home to some 760 species of marine fish, 33 species of sharks and 20 species of cetaceans.
The reefs on Hannibal Bank, where T. dalioi was discovered, occur in low-light environments that are thought to be fragile habitats made of a high diversity of corals, algae and sponges. The bank is also an important commercial fisheries area. However, the area has largely been neglected in most environmental and conservation policies, the authors wrote, and needs more protection.
“Medical researchers have identified therapeutic benefits derived from both soft and hard corals such as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, bone repair and neurological benefits,” Guzmán said. “But our ability to contribute to the understanding of soft corals and their habitats, depends not only on steady funding for the use of submersibles, but also on our continued ability to obtain permission to work in Coiba National Park.
Breedy, O., & Guzmán, H. M. (2018). A new alcyonacean species (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Octocorallia) from a seamount in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Bulletin of Marine Science. DOI: 10.5343/bms.2018.0027.