10 new coral species discovered in science collections

Kendall Hutt
Source: 1News

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

Kotatea lobata, one of 10 new species of soft coral.

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

Kessel examined 96 specimens collected from New Zealand to make his discoveries.

He said some of the species had 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're important components of marine ecosystems.

"They're like the trees of the sea floor and many other organisms depend on them for their habitat," Kessel explained.

Kessel's PhD work at the Victoria University of Wellington has debunked the belief New Zealand had one common shallow-water species called 'dead man's fingers' or Alcyonium aurantiacum.

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

"What we thought was one species is actually several superficially similar, but very diverse species."

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

“Virtually nothing is known about the many species within diving or even snorkelling depths around the country.”

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

Far North iwi Ngāti Kurī named one genus Kotatea, which means orange soft corals. The second is Ushanaia, named after Kessel's fiancé Ushana.

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

"Ngāti Kurī representatives carefully crafted scientific names based in te reo, and seeing the species I worked so hard to identify given names with such deep historical and spiritual meaning was the most rewarding part of my PhD," Kessel said.

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

  • Kotatea teorowai - meaning the rumbling sound of water
  • Kotatea kurakootingotingo - meaning red spotted, references kowhaiwhai patterns
  • Kotatea kapotaiora - meaning to grasp the nutrients of the sea
  • Kotatea raekura - references ancient knowledge and wisdom, derived from words for red and forehead as the species looks like a brain.