Seven new bamboo corals discovered

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Scientists have discovered seven new species of bamboo coral in the deep waters off Hawaii.

The new species were discovered on an expedition funded by NOAA, the US Department of Commerce s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to Papah Naumoku Kea Marine National Monument - one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world.

Six of the seven species may belong to an as yet undescribed genus.

These discoveries are important, because deep-sea corals support diverse seafloor ecosystems and also because these corals may be among the first marine organisms to be affected by ocean acidification, said Dr Richard Spinrad, NOAA s assistant administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

The expedition also discovered corals that are estimated to be 4,000 years old; a five foot five foot tall yellow bamboo coral tree; a giant sponge which grows one metre tall and one metre wide- dubbed ~the cauldron sponge , and a coral graveyard which covered over 1 km square and 600 metres deep which may have died anything from several thousand years ago to more than a million years ago.

Corals can relay important information about the way the oceans have changed in this period as they produce growth rings - much like trees - that reflect the changes in conditions.

Studying these corals can help us understand how they survive for such long periods of time, as well as how they may respond to climate change in the future, said Rob Dunbar, a Stanford University scientist.

Bamboo corals are members of the Isididae family.