Unique Coral Found in Deep Arctic Ocean Is ‘Almost Certainly a New Species’

In the extremely cold waters of the Arctic Ocean, scientists have discovered a strange and unique coral that is almost certainly a new species.

When you think of coral, you might imagine tropical temperatures, crystal clear waters and clown fish. However, corals are extremely diverse and inhabit many different ecosystems across the planet, from the idyllic atolls of the Pacific to the darkest depths of the ocean. There is even an abundance of arctic coral located along the edge of the continental shelf where water temperatures are just above zero degrees Celsius (32F).

The latest discovery was made by a team of researchers from The Nippon Foundation-Nekton Ocean Census that is currently on a mission to document the depths of the Arctic Ocean. They left Troms in northern Norway on May 3 aboard the ship HRH Crown Prince Haakon and will finish their expedition this week.

The potentially new species of coral was found living on the stem of a crinoid, also known as a sea lily. Ocean Census released a video of their experts discussing the discovery, and as you can see, they’re pretty excited about it.

We’ve seen very, very little coral since we’ve been here in the Arctic. During the dive today, we saw many of these crinoids growing, and what we found on this crinoid is a coral that lives on the stem of the crinoid. It’s almost certainly a new species, explains Professor Alex Rogers, Principal Investigator of the Ocean Census, in the video.

It really shows co-evolution in the deep sea, but also how effective the remotely operated vehicle is [ROV] it is. We get the specimens in such good condition that those kinds of relationships are actually preserved, Rogers added.

The curious coral is just one of the expedition’s finds over the past few weeks. They previously explored the Svyatogor ridge, a site at a depth of about 3,700 meters (12,140 feet) within the mid-Arctic ocean ridge system that is loaded with hydrothermal vents. In this strange, methane- and sulfur-rich environment, their ROV described the array of chemosynthetic communities that live here, including tubeworms and bivalve molluscs.

Deep-sea arctic coral is found on the stem of a sea lily.

The coral was found living on the stem of a sea lily.

Image courtesy of Ocean Census & Martin Hartley

The expedition is particularly important because this environment is facing several existential threats. Along with the impact from climate change, some of these unique habitats are being targeted for deep sea mining. This would essentially involve dredging the sea for bits of rare metals such as lithium and cobalt, potentially causing irreversible damage to the fragile ecosystems that reside here.

Understanding every aspect of our ecosystem is of tremendous importance. Today, we possess new tools, empowering us to make discoveries that were previously beyond our reach. Innovations such as eDNA analysis, advances in taxonomy and machine learning represent sophisticated tools for gathering essential information, Jan-Gunnar Winther, Vice-Rector for Research and Development at UiT The Arctic University of Norway and Specialist Director at the Norwegian Polar Institute located in Troms, said in a statement.

With our current abilities to collect large amounts of data and consolidate it effectively, there is tremendous potential. If these data become accessible and widely shared, not just by those who collected them, it could have a profound impact on scientific understanding, Winther added.

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Image Source : www.iflscience.com

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