We absolutely love all corals in the family Agariciidae which includes Leptoseris, Gardinoseris, Pavona, Agaricia and Psammocora. These corals are hardy, colorful, undemanding in terms of light and flow and they have really neat color and pattern which is unique among stony corals. Apparently their singularity is not lost on coral reef scientists who are trying to figure how some of these corals can grow deeper than was previously thought possible.
While reef aquarists are often trying to find new ways of getting ever brighter lights on our high energy reef tanks, coral researchers in Hawaii and elsewhere are intensively studying deep water photosynthetic corals to figure out how they can grow with so little light. Down at 300 feet the light intensity is less than 1% of what is is at the surface yet in clear oceanic waters, fields of the photosyntetic stony coral Leptoseris hawaiiensis grows in abundance and densities which defy conventional understandings about what reef corals need to grow and survive.
A couple months ago we had the privilege of following along with Rich Pyle and a crew of divers as their journal chronicled the study of Leptoseirs corals growing over 250 feet deep. Now that the field research has concluded, the data from their experiments and Leptoseris hawaiiensis coral samples are being studied to piece together the incredible low energy demands of these deep water corals.
What is particularly exciting about this study is that the participating researchers from Ohio State University are tapping into the reef aquarium hobby/industry through the Ohio coral farm Reef Systems. The faculty of OSU is being encouraged to work with professional coral growers like Reef Systems whose intimate understanding of coral needs can help researchers learn more about the needs of growing corals. As far as we know this may be one of the most significant studies of coral ecology which is tapping aquarium knowledge from across the spectrum from deep diving pioneer Rich Pyle, the know-how of Reef Systems Coral Farms and the molecular biology laboratory techniques of Rob Toonen. Dr. Toonen was first to inform the aquarium hobby about these uber deep growing photosynthetic corals and thankfully, there’s a podcast of Rob Toonen’s deep reef study which can quickly bring you up to speed about what this important research project means, and what it can teach us about corals in the wild and in captivity.