Smithsonian Discovers New Coral Species in Panama

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From Stri.org

On the first submersible exploration of Hannibal Bank in Panama’s Coiba National Park and World Heritage Site, Smithsonian staff scientist Hector Guzman found and collected a previously undescribed coral species. He named it Eugorgia siedenburgae for Joan S. Siedenburg, explorer and longstanding friend of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

“Joan’s encouragement and passion for learning inspires many Smithsonian scientific colleagues in Panama,” said Guzman. “This new species name recognizes Siedenburg’s special interest in deep-sea exploration and her appreciation for marine life.”

During a STRI expedition in March, 2012, sponsored, in part, by Siedenburg, he collected a large specimen 63 meters (207 feet) under the ocean’s surface from the submersible DeepSee using a mechanical arm.

Eugorgia siedenburgae forms bright pink, bushy colonies with light-colored branch-tips. The soft-coral grows on rocks, debris, coarse sand or muddy sediments. This seventh species of the genus Eugorgia reported from Costa Rica and Panama brings the total number of species of this eastern Pacific genus to 13.

Guzman described the coral with Odalisca Breedy from the University of Costa Rica. “Nearly all of the surveys of soft coral diversity in the Eastern Pacific region have focused on shallow environments. Only recently have we begun to explore deeper into the ocean’s mesophotic zone,” said Breedy.

In twelve dives they collected 15 soft coral species, including sea pens, gorgonians and sea whips, three species of black corals and four species of hydrocorals including the lace corals Stylaster and Distichopora. In addition to Siedenburg, Guzman’s team included a fisheries biologist from the University of Panama as well as microbiologists and chemists from Panama’s government laboratory, INDICASAT, who joined the expedition. The microbiologists isolated bacteria from 104 tissue samples to look for chemical compounds to test against cancer and several tropical diseases.

Guzman hopes to return to Hannibal Bank to conduct a more extensive survey. In the meantime, he has presented information about the scarcity of commercial fish on this zone to the media and to policy makers.

Funding for the expedition and species identification were provided by the International Community Foundation; Panama’s Instituto de Investigaciones Cientificas y Servicios de Alta Tecnologia, INDICASAT, Mission Blue’s Sylvia Earle Alliance and the Universidad de Costa Rica.

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