Scientists find ‘alien’ coral species off Fourchon’s coast

The Daily Comet, July 14, 2010
By Robert Zullo

Two Cocodrie-based scientists have found a hardy and voracious species of invasive coral clinging to an oil-and-gas platform off the coast of Port Fourchon, though it remains unclear whether the “alien” coral poses a threat to native varieties in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Paul Sammarco and Scott Porter, marine scientists at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium research center in Cocodrie, identified the species of coral, called Tubastraea micranthus, after Porter found it on a platform about 20 miles southeast of Port Fourchon, near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Working together and separately, the two scientists have spent nearly 10 years surveying 83 platforms in the Gulf to document the types of coral growing on the structures. Sammarco was working on a study for the U.S. Minerals Management Service. Porter, a marine ecologist who worked as an oilfield and oyster science consultant, was doing private research to explore the possibility of using the platforms for coral aquaculture.

Since the new species has only been spotted on a single rig, near the intersection of two major shipping lanes, the scientists guess the coral was recently brought to the Gulf on a ship’s hull or in its bilge water.

Though they may resemble rocks or plants, corals made up of tiny living organisms generally separate into two types — reef-building and non-reef-building coral.

Sammarco, who has a doctorate in ecology and evolution, said T. micranthus, a non-reef-building coral, may be even more adept at growing and reproducing than another closely related invasive coral that has already swept through the western Atlantic.

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