In December 2009 the Monaco Scientific Center (CSM) set sail to investigate scleractinian coral species thriving in a still poorly explored environment – the deep-sea. Corals living in deep-sea environments are often referred to as cold water corals due to the low temperature range (6 to 14 °C) that these organisms are accustomed to.
Unlike the majority of tropical and temperate scleractinian corals, cold water corals in the dark deep ocean are not associated with symbiotic zooxanthellae providing energy by photosynthesis, but depend exclusively on heterotrophic feeding. However, similar to their warm water counterparts in shallow coastal waters, cold water corals by calcification can build large reef structures (bioherms) that provide an important habitat for a highly diverse deep-sea organism community. Little is known about cold water coral reefs in the Mediterranean Sea and about the ecophysiology of its scleractinian coral species in particular.
The multinational project COMP (réponse des COraux Méditerranéens Profonds aux changements climatiques globaux) was established to conduct studies on the physiology and ecophysiology of Mediterranean cold water corals with special emphasis on possible impacts by global climate change. In a joined effort together with colleagues from Italy (ISMAR, Bologna), France (LOV, Villefranche-sur-mer) and the USA (LDEO, New York), cold water corals in an only recently discovered deep-sea coral reef south of Malta were investigated during the research cruise MEDCOR (southern MEDiterranean CORals).
The principle aims of these investigations were to characterize the local benthic organism community in depths up to 600 meters, while carrying out extensive physiological studies on living coral specimens sampled from the deep. One of the coral species investigated onboard (Madrepora oculata) characterized by its white skeleton and almost transparent polyps, is shown in the picture below.
For further information, please contact: Malik Naumann (+377 92 16 79 82)