COLLEGE STATION, March 24, 2009 Researchers led by a Texas A&M University professor have discovered coral beds off the coast of Hawaii that are more than 4,200 years old, making them among the oldest living creatures on Earth.
The team, directed by Brendan Roark of Texas A&M's College of Geosciences, and colleagues from the University of California-Santa Cruz and Australian National University in Canberra, have had their work published in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The project was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation.
Two different species of coral beds were documented using carbon dating methods, Roark says, with both being much older than previously believed. One species
Leiopathes is now confirmed to be about 4,265 years old, while the other species, Gerardia, is believed to be about 2,742 years old.
The coral beds were discovered in about 1,200 feet of water using submersible vehicles. One of the beds covers several hundred square feet, Roark notes.
"The beds are quite large, but sadly, not in very good shape," Roark explains.
"The color of the coral makes them highly sought-after for making jewelry, and the Gerardia coral especially is a beautiful gold color. There are laws protecting the beds, but much of the harvesting still continues.
"Also, the beds are threatened by local fishermen in the area. You could compare the situation to that of the Amazon rain forest areas, where huge tracts of land are disappearing because of man-made activities. The same is true of these coral beds."
The age of the coral would rank them among the oldest living creatures in continuous existence, Roark adds. Scientists know that some of the bristlecone pine trees in Northern California are also more than 4,000 years old.
It was previously believed that such coral beds were no
|Contact: Brendan Roark|
Texas A&M University