November 7, 2014
New Coral Species Discovered Off California Coast
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The first-ever intensive research trip to the bottom of the sea in the waters north of Bodega Head, California has produced a few startling discoveries – including a new species of coral.Conducted by marine biologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the expedition also found a nursery area for both catsharks and skates.
"This is a highly unusual nursery because rarely, if ever, are shark nurseries in the same area as skate nurseries," said Peter Etnoyer, a deep-sea biologist at NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.
The NOAA team focused their expedition on two primary sites: the deep-sea waters of Bodega Canyon and "the Football" – an oval-shaped canyon west of Salmon Creek. Both areas were relatively unexplored, but thought to hold diverse marine life.
While one NOAA team found hundreds of skate egg cases and a nearby catshark nursery, another dive team discovered corals about 600 feet deep that were later confirmed to be a new species of deep-sea coral from the Leptogorgia genus.
Image Above: A catshark’s egg nest, with its yellow egg cases. Shark, skate and ray egg cases are often referred to as mermaids purses. Credit: NOAA
"Deep-sea corals and sponges provide valuable refuge for fish and other marine life," said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Gulf of Farallones marine sanctuary where some of the dives took place. "Data on these life forms helps determine the extent and ecological importance of deep-sea communities and the threats they face. Effective management of these ecosystems requires science-based information on their condition."
The NOAA team was also able to capture video of the deep-sea areas previously only imaged via sonar technology.
"The video surveys from this research mission verified the extent of rocky habitat estimated from sonar data collected several years ago, and the quality of rocky habitat in some areas exceeded expectations," said Guy Cochrane, a geophysicist from the US Geological Survey.
The NOAA researchers noted that the canyons they explored are essential because they are a sanctuary for essential species of fish and offer a habitat for delicate varieties of deep water corals and sponges.
"Surveys of the seafloor in these waters reveal an abundance and diversity of life in new habitats," said Danielle Lipski, a research coordinator at the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "This work helps inform our knowledge and understanding of the deep sea ecosystems north of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries, areas that are extremely important to the ocean environment."
In June, NOAA announced that it would allow the public to nominate additional marine and Great Lakes areas for sanctuary status.
“Our national marine sanctuaries not only protect special places in America’s oceans and Great Lakes, but they promote responsible and sustainable ocean uses to protect the health of our oceans for future generations,” said Kathryn D. Sullivan, NOAA administrator, upon the announcement. “This new process increases the public’s involvement in the stewardship of our oceans, which is central to NOAA’s overall mission. We look forward to hearing from the public about places in the marine and Great Lakes environment they feel deserve special status and protection as national marine sanctuaries.”