For the first time in over 100 years, a colony of Pacific elkhorn coral (Acropora rotumana) has been spotted in the remote North Pacific Ocean.
Researchers from Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) found the coral during an underwater survey of the Arno atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The Pacific elkhorn coral got its name from the long, horn-like branches it develops over thousands of years. The colony found by the CoECRE researchers was especially large, measuring 16 feet (5 meters) across and nearly 7 feet (2 m) high.
According to LiveScience, the coral colony looks like the critically endangered elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) of the Atlantic Ocean, but genetic analysis has shown that the Atlantic and Pacific varieties are different species.
Part of the dominant genus of reef-building corals, researchers are very interested in learning how the Pacific version lives, and hope that it will provide clues about these exotic marine creatures that will help determine their conservation status.
Discovering a patch of rare coral of this magnitude is a welcome bit of good news for oceanographers that have been slowly watching the world’s coral reefs disappear.
For years, marine scientists have noticed that abnormally warm weather, coupled with pollution and overfishing, have contributed to a rapid decline in large coral around the world.
Smaller coral varieties are trying to pick up the slack, but they don’t have the ability to build the same vast reef structures that provide homes to many species of tropical fish. Scientists fear that if large coral species dissapear, the fish might soon follow.
Safe For Now?
Although the newfound colony of elkhorn coral is thrilling for scientists, it’s difficult to say how long it will be able to survive.
Coral bleaching, another symptom of climate change and pollution, occurs when the symbiosis between the coral and the algae breaks down and corals effectively expel the algae and turn white.
Thirty years ago these bleaching events were very rare, but scientists have found them more frequently in recent years.
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