Introduction

In the cold, dark oceanic waters, highly endemic coral communities are found at great depths between 2,000 and 6,000 metres (figure 1). There are about 5100 species of corals living in the ocean, over half of these species are known to be cold water corals. Cold water corals (CWC) have been studied since the eighteenth century when they were first recorded by the Right Reverend Erich Pontoppidan, Bishop of Bergen, in his 1755 book “The Natural History of Norway”. Three years later, Carl von Linne’ described the species found as Madrepora pertusa (Lophelia pertusa) in “Systema Naturae”, the book that provided a foundation of Linnaean taxonomy (Roberts et al, 2009).

Lophelia pertusa cold water coral community inhabiting squat lobsters, crinoids, an urchin, and a startled fish found in the North Atlantic. (By Bioluminescence 2009 Expedition, NOAA/OER)

Figure 1: Lophelia pertusa cold water coral community provides habitat for squat lobsters, crinoids, an urchin, and a fish found in the North Atlantic. (By Bioluminescence 2009 Expedition, NOAA/OER)

Firstly, what are corals? Corals are defined as,

“Animals in the cnidarian classes Anthozoa and Hydrozoa that produce either calcium carbonate (aragonitic or calcitic) secretions resulting in a continuous skeleton or as a numerous microscopic, individualized sclerites, or that have a black, horn-like, proteinaceous axis”, (Cairns, 2007).

 

With the use of advanced acoustic equipment and submersibles, scientists are able to understand more of CWC anatomy and biological changes due to major anthropogenic impacts. Watch the video below to see how the Corps of Exploration’s flagship vessel E/V Nautilus and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are used to collect video footage and variety of samples of CWC in the deep sea. This blog will give an insight on factors causing anthropogenic impacts on CWCs and how they affect their survival and structure. Most importantly it will give an aspect on why CWCs make such an extreme habitat for the marine environment.

 

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