Researchers have discovered what they believe is the world’s biggest community of a species of deep-water mushroom corals using an underwater robot. The discovery was made at the Ningaloo Marine Park off our Western Australia coast.
Doctor Russ Babcock from the CSIRO said while the mushroom corals had been reported in other areas including the Great Barrier Reef, this appeared to be the largest community of its kind.
“It’s over 2.5 kilometres long and 100 metres wide and we estimate there are as many as 12 million of these little corals living shoulder-to-shoulder on the reef,” he said.
The corals sit about 40 metres below the surface and live unattached, feeding off sunlight and plankton. Not as striking as the corals normally found at Ningaloo Reef, the species plays a vital role in the survival of the entire system.
“They’re important for producing food in the ecosystem that other animals can live on and for stabilising the sea floor,” Dr Babcock said.
“They might get shuffled around a little bit or turned over but they can flip themselves back over by blowing up like a balloon and just continue living as normal.”
The discovery has been made possible using a robot called Starbug. Scientists sent it down to depths considered difficult for divers where it collected data and images.
“We didn’t have very good images of them before and now we have some really great photos that tell us exactly what these brown spots are,” Dr Babcock said. CSIRO senior technical officer Karl Forcey said the $125,000 robot had transformed underwater research. (Source: ABC News Perth)
More details on deep-water mushroom corals here: https://blog.csiro.au/magic-mushroom-coral/