From: Ariel Mark, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published December 23, 2013 08:48 AM

New Coral Species Discovered in French Polynesia

With humans scattered throughout the globe, it is hard to imagine lands still unexplored or species undocumented. Yet, on the remote French Polynesian Gambier Islands a new coral reef species has been found thriving in underwater lagoons. Echinophyllia tarae was discovered by marine biologist Francesca Benzoni and the research crew members of the Tara Oceans International Research Expedition.

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The recently discovered species is the newest member of Echinophyllia, a genus of coral whose members are found in the Indo-Pacific Ocean from the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean to the western and central Pacific Ocean. Benzoni and her team discovered Echinophyllia tarae while sampling 24 sites along the lagoons of the Gambier Islands located at the southeast tip of French Polynesia. Due to the remoteness of the islands, the last recorded study of these corals was conducted by naturalist Jean-Pierre Chevalier in the mid seventies. During his 1974 exploration, Chevalier observed a dominant presence of the species Echinophyllia aspera. When Benzoni explored the lagoons, she didn't find any Echinophyllia aspera, but instead discovered an undescribed species, Echinophyllia tarae.

Benzoni believes that Chevalier may have found and collected Echinophyllia tarae and thought it was Echinophyllia aspera, but since his collection cannot be located, this cannot be confirmed.

"Dr. Chevalier had an incredible knowledge of corals," Benzoni told mongabay.com. "It is my personal opinion he did find and collect E. tarae, but thought it was E. aspera. The genus Echinophyllia, like several other genera of scleractinian corals is not very well studied. Because corals are so morphologically variable, it is not uncommon that we collect samples because they look somehow not typical of the known species and find out later, once we study the collection, that we actually collected a new guy."

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