A new species of black coral has been discovered off southern California, as reported today in the online scientific journal Zootaxa (http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/content.html ). The Christmas Tree Coral (Antipathes dendrochristos) was observed from the manned submersible Delta by researchers from University of California Santa Barbara and NOAA Fisheries Santa Cruz Laboratory during surveys of rockfishes on deep rocky banks about 40 miles offshore from Los Angeles. A few specimens were collected and used by black-coral expert Dennis Opresko, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to publish a description of this new species. Found in water depths from 100 to 225 meters, this species forms bushy colonies that grow to a height greater than 2 meters tall and resemble pink-, white-, and red-flocked Christmas trees. Since its discovery, researchers have found the coral living around several islands in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and on several offshore banks. "What is really remarkable", says biologist Mary Yoklavich from NOAA Fisheries, "is that these spectacular large colonies have managed to go unnoticed while living in the backyard of the largest urban area on the west coast".
There is increasing national interest by both the science and conservation communities in potential impacts of fishing activities on seafloor organisms such as the Christmas Tree Coral, whose large and delicate colonies would be especially vulnerable to at least some types of fishing gear, such as heavy trawls. University of California, Santa Barbara researcher Milton Love notes that despite their proximity to large population centers, "Many of the deepwater reefs in southern California harbor remarkably healthy communities of corals, sponges, and other large invertebrates. This may be the case because, historically, there has been relatively little trawling over reefs in our area. What we need to know is the role that these large invertebrates play as deep-water habitats." Discoveries such as this new species underscore how much there is yet to learn about marine communities on the seafloor.
Pictures of Christmas Tree Coral
SWFSC Habitat Ecology Team