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New Barrier Reef coral found at extreme depths


The expedition produced many specimens for further analysis, which may prove to be new species (Courtesy Catlin Seaview Survey)
The expedition produced many specimens for further analysis, which may prove to be new species (Courtesy Catlin Seaview Survey)

Kevan Karanjia, Staff Writer

January 6, 2013 — A team of Australian scientists using a deep-sea robot have discovered coral living at depths once not thought possible.

Deep sea coral that has spread flat in order to catch more sunlight (Courtesy Catlin Seaview Survey)
Deep sea coral that has spread flat in order to catch more sunlight (Courtesy Catlin Seaview Survey)

A research team from the University of Queensland's Seaview Survey have announced the discovery of new coral at depths never thought possible.

The coral was discovered by the Deep Reef Survey team at 125 metres below the surface near the Ribbon Reef, on the edge of the Australian continental shelf.

Dr. Carden C. Wallace, a world expert on corals at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, said in a press release she is astonished by what the Catlin Seaview Survey is finding.

"Up to now we've had only a very small number of specimens from deep reefs, mostly dredged samples, totalling about 20. Yet already, the Catlin Seaview Survey has collected more than 1,000 deep coral specimens (below 40 m) during these early stages of the Catlin Seaview Survey with collections still ongoing."

The depth measured is 4 times deeper than the scuba diving limit but was found using a robot submarine.

Researchers made the discovery while surveying a section of the 2,300 kilometre Barrier Reef system.

The news is significant because the deep reef is almost totally unexplored by scientists and the new coral could help to rejuvenate damaged species near the surface.

Storm damaged reef that could be helped by deeper coral (Courtesy Catlin Seaview Survey)
Storm damaged reef that could be helped by deeper coral (Courtesy Catlin Seaview Survey)

"This mesophotic layer, just beneath shallow reefs, could provide coral recruits for the upper levels of the reef," said Dr. Pim Bongaerts in a release, who led the expedition's deep reef team. "This Provides a potential for them to help in the recovery of areas heavily damaged by climate change-related impacts."

The deep water coral appears to be strong and has weathered storms much better than those closer to the surface.

Scientists now hope to look at how ocean acidification and warming was impacting the deeper reefs.

For the moment, Dr. Bongaerts is just surprised to have the findings."It is surprising in this day and age, that below some of the most well known reefs which are so popular with divers, there is an almost entirely unexplored world and as a result an enormous amount of science to be done."

The Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea expedition ran until the end of December and visited 20 separate reefs during the survey.

There are plans for new expeditions, including Hawaii, the Philippines and Bermuda in the future.

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