New species of coral discovered off Sonoma Coast


This Sept. 6, 2014 photo released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a new species of deep-sea white coral found by NOAA researchers off the coast of Sonoma County, Calif. The research team also found a “highly unusual” nursery area for catsharks and skates in the underwater canyons close to the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries.

Scientists surveying the sea floor off the Sonoma Coast have discovered a new species of coral in an area proposed for a national marine sanctuary extension, highlighting the still-unexplored, biologically diverse habitat that would be protected if the expansion goes forward.

The white coral specimen under examination at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is one of two key findings made by a research team during a six-day trip through two deep sea zones north of Bodega Head. Scientists also found underwater areas where hundreds of skate egg cases, or “mermaid purses,” were scattered among catshark nests in a rare, possibly unique case of nurseries for those species overlapping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced.

The discoveries underscore the rich, productive habitat at stake in the debate over marine sanctuary boundaries, with particularly profound implications for fish and fisheries, as well as the potential for future revelations, scientists said.

“It’s exciting in that we’ve never really looked at the sea bottom off the San Francisco Coast in this detail,” said Academy of Sciences zoologist Gary Williams, invertebrates curator for the facility. “Before this, we really didn’t have an idea of what the bottom looked like, and it’s not just a uniform plain. It’s highly varied, with highly diversified habitats.”

Read more via New species of coral discovered off Sonoma Coast | The Press Democrat.

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