10 new coral species discovered in scientific collections

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Ten new species of “soft corals” have been discovered by a marine biologist.

The new species was discovered by Gustav Kessel among tens of thousands of preserved specimens held at the NIWA Invertebrate Collection in Wellington, the Auckland War Memorial Museum and international institutions.

Kessel examined 96 specimens collected in New Zealand to make his findings.

He said some of the species have been waiting for attention on collection shelves for years, some since the late 1960s.

Soft corals are the lesser-known relatives of reef-forming hard corals, he said. They are important components of marine ecosystems.

“They are like the trees on the seabed and many other organisms depend on them for their habitat,” Kessel explained.

Kessel’s doctoral work at Victoria University of Wellington debunked the belief that New Zealand had a common shallow-water species called “dead man’s fingers” or Alcyonium aurantiacum.

Kotatea raekura, one of the 10 new species of soft coral and one of four named by Ngāti Kurī.

“What we thought was a single species is actually several superficially similar, but very diverse species.”

While New Zealand is a hotspot for soft coral diversity, our corals are better studied in the open ocean than at shallow depths, he says.

“Little is known of the many species that are found in the depths of diving or even snorkeling across the country.”

The 10 corals identified by Kessel have been classified into two new genera (groups of species) endemic to New Zealand.

The far northern iwi Ngāti Kurī named a genus Kotatea, meaning orange soft corals. The second is Ushanaia, named after Kessel’s fiance, Ushana.

Ngāti Kurī also named four of the 10 new species. Specimens of the four species he named had been collected primarily from Manawatāwhi/Three Kings Islands and Piwhane/Spirits Bay.

“Ngāti Kurī representatives have carefully crafted scientific names based on te reo, and seeing the species for which I have worked so hard to identify names with such deep historical and spiritual significance has been the most rewarding part of my doctorate,” Kessel said.

Kessel said that the four new coral species named by Ngāti Kurī are called:

  • Kotatea teorowai – meaning the roar of water
  • Kotatea kurakootingotingo – meaning speckled red, refers to kowhaiwhai patterns
  • Kotatea kapotaiora – meaning seize nutrients from the sea
  • Kotatea raekura – refers to ancient knowledge and wisdom, derived from words for red and forehead, as the species resembles a brain.
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