Conservation Diver Trainer Pau Urgell recently made a pretty important discovery during an Ecological Monitoring Program survey – a rare species of soft coral that seemed to be making a skeleton. Pau knew that hard corals have tentacles in multiples of six, and soft corrals in multiples of eight, so something was not right when an eight tentacled coral was encrusting over the rocks and clams. Getting back to the office, he tried and tried to identify this strange Octocoral, to no avail, until, with some help from the rest of the team, they discovered it was a very rare species in the genus called Nanipora, which previously has only been observed in one small location in Japan.
Over the next few months, Pau and others worked to get more data on this strange coral, collecting samples for analysis and mapping the range of the colonies that could be found around the EMP line in Hin Wong Bay, Koh Tao. Through that process, another amazing discovery was made, this coral contained zooxanthallae, the symbiotic algae that hard corals use to make their calcium carbonate skeleton.
The results of all these findings have been written up in the Journal of Marine Biodiversity, which you can find here. This goes to show how careful observations, combined with good science, can yield exciting new information. For now, we will continue to enjoy seeing this rare species of coral, knowing that there is only one place other than Koh Tao where it exists.