Ahhhh, coral. For most of us, the word conjures a warm breeze, a snorkel, and shallow aquamarine reefs. Tropical corals are some of the most beloved and well-researched ecosystems on a planet - after all, who doesn’t want to conduct research in a speedo?
It may be surprising to many that in the chilly, dark waters off the Atlantic Canadian coast, we host our own variety of coral communities. While scientists have only recently begun to learn about cold-water corals, fishermen along the continental shelf have been aware of their existence for generations. Known to bottom hook-and-line fishermen in Nova Scotia as “trees,” Paragorgia arborea and Primnoa resedaeformis, among other species, have long been regarded as vital fish habitat.
Paragorgia arborea (AKA Bubblegum trees) are considered to be the world's largest seafloor organism. Colonies can reach over seven metres high, and live for hundreds of years. They function as an oceanic treehouse, providing shelter for countless species of fish and invertebrates. Due to their upright nature and slow growth rates, Bubblegum corals are very sensitive to impacts from bottom trawling.
Back in 1996, a group of concerned fishermen on the South Shore of Nova Scotia formed an education and advocacy group called the Canadian Ocean Habitat Protection Society (COHPS). The group created a fantastic mounted display of collected coral specimens, and toured it around local schools, parades, and gatherings on the back of a pick up truck. ((Photos courtesy of the NOAA and Derek Jones.)
For more about cold-water corals, keep your eyes on the Deep Sea News, as they are posting all kinds of fascinating coral stuff this week- from the latest science to the downright biblical.