July 28, 2014, 2:14 am

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  • Aleutian Islands corals
  • Aleutian Islands corals
1. Diverse coral and sponge fauna recently discovered off the Aleutian Islands © A. Lindner, NOAA Fisheries 2. The Aleutian Islands, between the Pacific Ocean and the Bearing Sea © A. Davies, SAMS, (2006)

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The Aleutian Islands

Home to 86 species of cold-water corals

The Aleutian Island chain extends for more than 1,900 km from the Alaskan Peninsula to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. The Islands separate the Bearing Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Recent seabed surveys around the Aleutian Islands have revealed a highly diverse community of cold-water corals.

In fact, the Aleutian Islands may be one of the most diverse cold-water coral regions in the world, with corals including stolon corals, true soft corals, sea whips and sea pens, gorgonian corals, stony cup corals, hydrocorals and black corals. To date, a total of 86 different taxa (genera, species or subspecies) of cold-water corals have been collected, with 25 potentially endemic to the islands (found nowhere else).

These corals form "coral gardens" - a vibrant and colourful ecosystem providing habitat for many other species including fish and invertebrates. The coral gardens are found in great abundance due to strong tidal currents that pass between the islands, exchanging nutrients between the Pacific Ocean and Bearing Sea.

Recent studies have found the corals of the Aleutians to be heavily impacted by bottom fishing. In moves to protect these valuable habitats, the American government has banned bottom contact fishing in 370,000 square kilometres around the Aleutian Islands.

The authors thank Dr. Alberto Lindner (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil) for donating the amazing images of the Aleutian Island coral gardens.

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