February 1st to 5th 2016
Olhão, Portugal
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A well-kept treasure at depth: Precious red coral rediscovered in Atlantic deep reefs (SW Portugal) after 300 years

Scientific Exhibition
Natural Resources
Wednesday, February 3, 2016 -
18:30 to 20:00

Boavida, J. 1 Paulo, D. 2 Aurelle, D. 3 Arnaud-Haond, S. 4 Marschal, C. 5 Reed, J. 6 Gonçalves, J.M.S. 7 Serrão, E.A. 8

1Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal
2Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal
3Aix Marseille Université, CNRS, IRD, Avignon Université, IMBE, France
4UMR212 EME (Exploited Marine Ecosystems), IFREMER
5Aix Marseille Université, CNRS, IRD, Avignon Université, IMBE
6Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University
7Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal
8Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal

The highly valuable red coral Corallium rubrum is listed in several Mediterranean Conventions for species protection and management since the 1980s. Yet, the lack of data about its Atlantic distribution has hindered its protection there. This culminated in the recent discovery of poaching activities harvesting tens of kg of coral per day from a deep rocky reef off SW Portugal. Red coral was irregularly exploited in Portugal between the 1200s and 1700s but since then it has remained forgotten. Here we provide the first description of an Atlantic red coral assemblage, recently rediscovered at 60-100 m depth. The population is composed of very large colonies, estimated to be over one century old. Their growth rate (0.23 mm year-1) is very slow comparable to Mediterranean specimens. The complex coral branch architecture promotes a rich assemblage of associated fauna, including species with boreal and Mediterranean affinities. Mitochondrial polymorphism shows that red coral populations from the Atlantic are genetically differentiated from the Mediterranean ones. Our underwater surveys, using advanced mixed-gas diving, retrieved lost fishing gear in all coral sites, likely to cause direct impacts on these assemblages. Our findings of distribution and genetic distinctness, together with its rich associated deep-dwelling fauna, now enable further research on population genetics, phylogeography and ecology of C. rubrum in the Atlantic. The present contribution shows the uniqueness and vulnerability of a relatively pristine red coral from SW Portugal and represents a baseline against which to monitor future disturbances. We argue that its protection from any mechanically destructive activities is urgent as a precautionary approach. Overall, our contribution should assist further research and conservation of this delicate coral, particularly in Portugal.
keywords: 
Red coral; Corallium rubrum; Atlantic; Genetic connectivity; Poaching

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