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New Coral Species Discovered off California Coast

NOAA-led team makes discovery during deep-sea research expedition.

underwater image of new coral species

New Coral Species

This is a new species of white coral, found in an area known as "The Football." It is likely closely related to gorgonian coral.

A NOAA-led research team has discovered a new species of deep-sea coral and a nursery area for catsharks and skates in the underwater canyons located close to the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries off the Sonoma coast.

In the first intensive exploration of California’s offshore areas north of Bodega Head, a consortium of federal and state marine scientists used small submersibles and other innovative technologies to investigate, film, and photograph marine life that has adapted to survive in offshore waters reaching 1,000 feet deep.

The exploration took place in September, 2014, on the NOAA R/V Fulmar and focused on the head waters of Bodega Canyon and "the Football"—an area west of Salmon Creek and north of the canyon nicknamed for its oval shape. Prior to this expedition, scientists knew little about these areas except that they were thought to contain nutrient-rich and biologically diverse marine life.

After multiple dives, the research team made two significant discoveries. First, hundreds of skate egg cases on the sea floor and in bundles on the rocks surrounding a catshark nursery area. Second, the team found a new species of deep-sea coral from the Leptogorgia genus at approximately 600 feet deep.

The research expedition was made possible by partnerships and collaboration among government and academic partners including the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, U.S. Geological Survey, and the California Academy of Sciences.

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Submarine canyons, such as Bodega Canyon, extend from the continental shelf to the deep sea which can make exploration in these areas difficult. The canyons are important because they act as a refuge for important species of fish and provide a habitat for sensitive species of deep water corals and sponges.

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