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February 14, 2005

Stocking Stuffers

A new species, or possibly two new species, of coral has been discovered off the California Coast

The life form is a type of black coral (the color it turns when it dies). Samples were sent to expert Dennis Opresko at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. His description of the new species appeared Tuesday in the online journal Zootaxa along with its Greek name: Antipathes dendrochristos.

"Antipathes" refers to the ancient belief that amulets of black coral can prevent illness and "dendrochristos" is a reference to the Christmas tree.
...
There are about 230 species of black coral around the world, from the tropics to Antarctica. Six or seven new ones may be formally named this year alone, Opresko said. Most are in deep water and some types are prized for jewelry.

The Zootaxa report referred to in the article linked above can be seen in pdf form here, and other pictures of Antipathes dendrochristos taken by the expedition appear here.

Maybe it's just me, but associating a species of coral that is "prized for jewelry" with the season of giving is just asking for trouble, even if most specimens are currently beyond the reach of all but the most sophisticated submersibles. Companies that exist to recover memorabilia from the Titanic won't hesitate when it comes to deep water corals if a market appears for them.

"Honey, have you hung the ornaments on the Christmas coral tree yet?"

Given the slow growth rates of most deep water corals, any market demand for them at all poses a significant threat to the species--unless someone figures out how to farm them. Until then, it might be best to give newly discovered species names like "Deadly Slime Coral," no matter how pretty they are.

Posted by Bigwig at February 14, 2005 12:26 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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