Invasive coral is old acquaintance

November 22nd, 2019
Cepaea nemoralis in different shapes and colours

A presumed invasive coral species that was discovered in the reefs around Curaçao is not invasive after all. The coral is in fact a native species that normally resides in deeper water, but has migrated to more shallow waters. That is the conclusion of of Naturalis Biodiversity Center scientists, together with the local Curaçao institute CARMABI. The scientists have spent several years researching corals surrounding the Caribbean island.

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During a large portion of exploratory dives between 2014 and 2017,  Naturalis researchers noticed a new coral species that had not been seen before. It resembled the invasive species Tubastraea coccinea, which also has bright yellow tentacles.

Closer study revealed that the two corals were not the same species. Under natural light, both corals look pale green. When the corals are put under a lamp however, the newly found coral varies in color from grey to dark red and orange. The previously known invasive species is always orange.

After additional research, the scientists conclude that the new coral is in fact Cladopsammia manuelensis. This coral had been spotted in shallow waters around Haiti, but normally only lives in deeper areas of the Caribbean.

Caribbean coral
The invasive T. coccinea (l) and the native C. manuelensis (r) are hard to distinguish.

The researchers suspect that C. manuelensis made the jump from deep to shallow water due to disturbances and changes in the reefs. Because the new species is so similar to the invasise T. coccinea, it’s not surprising it has not been spotted often.

According to professor Bert Hoeksema, who headed the research, the discovery underlines the importance of surveying for coral species. Hoeksema: “If we had no had a clear picture of the coral species that live here, we might’ve mistaken this native species for an invasive one. Especially now coral reefs are under pressure, both worldwide and here on Curaçao, it is vitally important to know that not all new species are invasive. We have to mindful of corals being able to move up from deeper water.”

for editors

The article in Ecosphere is available online. DOI

For any questions about this research, please contact Erik van Zwol, communication advisor,, 0031 71 751 9182