Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the University of Costa Rica have apparently discovered a new, fiery-red species of coral in the shallow waters of the Peruvian Pacific. The new species has been named Psammogorgia hookeri in honor of Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University biologist Yuri Hooker, and it was located by scuba divers at the Paracas National Reserve. The corals’ hand-sized colonies, which were located on rocky ledges at depths of up to 25 meters, were described by the investigators as slightly smaller than the colonies of their closest relatives. Furthermore, they reported finding tiny bits of coral attached to mussels from Peru’s Independence Bay at a nearby fish market.
“The new species was morphologically analyzed using light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy,” the study authors wrote. In addition to its smaller size, they noted that the coral was distinct from other members of its genus due in part to the presence of “prominent calyces with wide lips around polyp apertures and without a special type of sclerites, but with a concentration of irregular, thorny spindles and wart-clubs around the calyx rim.” P. hookeri also possesses “coenenchymal sclerites that do not reach more than 0.2 mm long” and “conspicuous star-like radiates,” they added. “The results increase species richness within a genus that has not been studied for more than a century, and contribute to the establishment of characters for further morphological studies. Additionally, the new species adds value to existing protected areas and to the octocoral biodiversity records” for the area.
Odalisca Breedy of the University of Costa Rica served as lead author of the study, and was assisted by STRI marine biologist Hector Guzman. Together, the duo have discovered roughly two dozen new types of soft coral in the Pacific, and are said to be experts in its ecology and taxonomy. “This new species may be found nowhere else in the world,” said Guzman. “But coral reefs and coral communities in Peru have never been systematically studied. We expect more surprises as we look at new collections.”
“With logistical support from the Peruvian National Protected Areas Service, we’re beginning to discover the amazing biodiversity of corals and marine invertebrates in the Peruvian Pacific,” Hooker added. “It’s mostly a matter of looking in the right places and inviting experts who can identify these relatively unknown and unstudied creatures.” Costa Rican researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Costa Rica have named the coral for Yuri Hooker, biologist and naturalist at the Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University in Lima, Peru.