Beautiful and rare “purple cauliflower” coral off New South Wales can become extinct within 10 years

Oval shape of cauliflower coral colony. Such coral may become extinct within 10 years.Credit: Provided by the author

When you think of Australia’s endangered coral, the Great Barrier Reef probably comes to mind. But elsewhere, coral species are also struggling, including a rare type known as the “cauliflower soft coral,” which is sadly endangered.

This kind, Dendronephthya australisLooks like purple cauliflower It has pink lilac stems and branches and is covered with white polyps.

Coral occurs primarily only in some parts of Port Stephens, New South Wales, and is attractive to divers and underwater photographers. However, sand movement, boating and fishing have dramatically reduced species populations.

Recent floods in New South Wales have exacerbated the problem — in fact, it may have reduced the remaining coral population by 90%.our Recent research The cauliflower soft corals found can become extinct in the next decade unless urgently protected and restored.

Lilac underwater garden

Cauliflower soft corals are mainly found in estuary environments on sandy beaches where high currents flow.They transport plankton depending on the tide feed..

Most seeds Commonly seen It is located at the mouth of the Port Stephens, about 200 kilometers north of Sydney. It has also been found at the mouth of Brisbane Water in New South Wales, and sporadically found elsewhere south of Jervis Bay.

Coral colonies form aggregates or “gardens”. In Port Stephens, these gardens are the preferred habitat for endangered species. White seahorse A protected species of pipefish.They also support the boy Australasian snapperAn important species for commercial and recreational fishermen.

In recent months, cauliflower soft corals have been designated as endangered. NSW And Nationwide..

Amazing decline

the scientist First mapped Distribution of cauliflower soft corals in 2011. They found that the largest colony at the Port Stephens estuary was not protected by a “no-take” zone, an area where fishing and other mining activities were prohibited.

To the study In 2016, the range and distribution of cauliflower soft corals decreased sharply.

our Recent research I investigated the problem in more detail. It involved mapping the southern coastline of Port Stephens using an underwater camera towed by the ship.

Cauliflower soft corals at the Port Stephens estuary were found to have declined by about 70% in just eight years. It currently occurs in excess of 9,300 square meters, down from 28,600 square meters in 2011.

Subsequent modeling sought to identify the cause of the coral decline. Over the last decade, we have found a correlation between coral loss and sand movement.

Human changes to the coastline, such as the development of marina, have changed the dynamics of ocean currents throughout the estuary.For example, before Research found A large influx of sand from the western end of Shoal Bay suffocated cauliflower soft coral colonies in two nearby locations. As of 2018, these colonies had completely disappeared.

While diving as part of the project, I identified other causes of coral damage. Dropping the boat’s anchors and setting up moorings damaged some colonies. Others were injured after being caught in a fishing line.

Diseases, pollution and other water quality issues can also contribute to the decline of the species.

Then the flood struck

About 18 Month After the latest mapping, cauliflower soft corals were hit further. Flood In March of this year, a large amount of freshwater spilled from the Karuah River to the Port Stephens Council in New South Wales. Seawater is dominant here. Freshwater can kill cauliflower soft corals.

After the flood, we went diving in Port Stephens where cauliflower soft corals were breeding. It turns out that many of the corals have collapsed and disappeared. In fact, we estimated that 90% of the remaining cauliflower soft coral populations were gone.

We plan to remap the estuary in the coming weeks and are confident that our initial estimates will be closer to our goals. If so, this means that less than 5% of the area of ​​the species mapped in 2011 currently remains.

Floods have also devastated kelp forests and other canopy-forming habitats. Estuary.. Further work is underway by scientists at the New South Wales Department of Primary Industry to quantify these losses and monitor recovery.

Urgent work required

Cauliflower soft corals need urgent protection. This requires continuous and coordinated investigation and management.

Obviously, measures need to be taken to reduce threats such as berthing, fishing and development that could increase sand movement.

Best practice rehabilitation is also required. This may include raising coral offsite and transplanting it into the appropriate habitat.Such a trial in Port Stephens shows Promising signs..

Human activity is causing species loss at an alarming rate. We must do our utmost to prevent the extinction of cauliflower soft corals and other endangered species. seed, To keep the balance between nature and its ecosystem.

Sequenced cauliflower coral genome

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Beautiful and rare “purple cauliflower” coral off New South Wales can become extinct within 10 years

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