Fiery-red coral species discovered in the Peruvian Pacific, Smithsonian reports
If you've eaten mussels from local fish markets in Peru recently, they might have had a new species of coral attached to the shell.
The recently discovered species, Psammogorgia hookeri, was discovered along rocky ledges by scuba divers at depths of 25 meters (82 feet) in Peru's Paracas National Reserve. The corals' colonies were about the size of the divers' hands, slightly smaller than the colonies of their closest relative, and are a bright red color.
"This new species may be found nowhere else in the world," said Hector Guzman, marine biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "But coral reefs and coral communities in Peru have never been systematically studied. We expect more surprises as we look at new collections."
The new species report appeared in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK. Odalisca Breedy, the reports lead author, and Guzman are experts in soft coral taxonomy and ecology, having discovered nearly 25 new species of soft coral in the Pacific. They identified the new species based on colony characteristics and both light and scanning-electron microscopy.
Breedy and Guzman compared samples of the new species with specimens from Peru's Ocean Institut (IMARPE) and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. No one had collected samples in the area in recent times, so most of the comparison specimens were more than 90 years old.
The old age of these specimens highlights how largely unexplored Peru's marine areas have remained. These protected regions could turn out to be a destination spot for hopeful scientists.
"With logistical support from the Peruvian National Protected Areas Service, we're beginning to discover the amazing biodiversity of corals and marine invertebrates in the Peruvian Pacific," said Hooker. "It's mostly a matter of looking in the right places and inviting experts who can identify these relatively unknown and unstudied creatures.