Discoveries of diversity

It has only been over the last two decades that researchers have really begun to uncover the extent of New Zealand’s offshore cold-water corals and coral ecosystems. The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) now has a major research focus in these offshore waters. They have sampled these corals ecosystems during research surveys and also obtained coral specimens from research trawl surveys and from commercial fishing voyages. Live footage of cold-water corals has been captured on NIWA’s underwater deep-towed camera systems. Click here to watch these videos!

Recently, NIWA along with contributions from international taxonomists, have helped make user-friendly identification guides to help identify New Zealand’s diverse cold-water corals (Click here for an example). The New Zealand deep-sea region has a well studied, diverse cold-water coral fauna. The corals are widespread and abundant, but also vulnerable to human impacts. The list of protected corals has now been revised (Department of Conservation Wildlife Act, 2010). Alongside black corals (Order Antipatharia) and the red hydrocoral Errina sp. which were already protected, a number of other coral groups are now also protected: gorgonian corals (Order Gorgonacea); stony corals (Order Scleractinia); Hydrocorals (Hydrozoa and all species in the family Stylasteridae).

Scientists at  NIWA are studying these corals, looking at the ecological roles of the corals in relation to their distribution and possible human threats, mapping the extent of corals in the New Zealand region, aging corals to determine growth rates, and using cold-water corals to help reconstruct past changes in global climate and oceanographic conditions.

Thanks to Di Tracey and NIWA for contributing the text, images and videos of New Zealand corals.