Study Cold water corals under the Patagonian Sea in Chile

With support from National Geographic, the researcher Rhian Waller spent a month in the Comau fjord in Chile, studying a unique and ancient species of the planet.

The Comau FJORD in the Lakes Region is a unique place in the world. In its cold waters, arriving at 8 ° C, inhabits a little-studied type of coral and is among the oldest species on the planet. They may live hundreds or thousands of years.

A fjord is a narrow inlet of the sea formed by the flooding of a valley carved or partially carved by glacial action.

Waller, who has participated in over 40 international scientific expeditions, published more than 30 scientific studies and spent almost a decade researching the coral of the world, just spend a month studying corals in the Chilean Patagonia on an expedition funded by National Geographic and supported by the Huinay Foundation.

The research has focused on the search of coral stone ( Desmophyllum dianthus ), a species that, while not unique to Chile, only in the fjords Comau and Reñihue can find them in abundance and at surface level.

“This coral is usually a deep water species, more than 1,000 meters deep. But the Chilean fjords are unique. Here you can find this species at the surface, only 20 meters, so I can dive to study, “says the researcher.

The coral stone is a solitary species, which does not build reefs and which like other cold water corals – dependent of capture plankton for food.


“There are huge platforms cold water corals in Patagonia, far more than in any other part of the planet. This area is truly unique in the world, “says Rhian Waller, Ph.D. in Marine Sciences at the Maine University in U.S.

That makes the difference from the tropical corals, which have a photosynthetic algae within their tissues “so they need sunlight and warm conditions to survive.” Without this algae corals can live almost anywhere: in the deep ocean (under 6,000 m), in polar regions and cold-water fjords.

The corals form habitat to the ocean creating homes for many other animals where they can rest, eat and breed. They are an important part of the life cycle of commercial species of fish and crabs. “They are an irreplaceable part of the ecosystem”.

“These cold-water corals and live to the end and under more acidic than regular corals then any change through warming or acidification could lead to the end of what they are able to resist,” says the expert.

Therefore, the purpose is to observe the reproduction and development of coral, which is classified as “near threatened” – to know how to deal with their recovery if suffer more damage from climate change or other anthropogenic reasons (such as abstraction for crafts ).

In fact, her next step is to know how the larvae of cold-water corals are affected by climate change, which will provide vital information about the future of this fragile species.

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