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In Photos: Stunning New Coral Species of Polynesia

Echinophyllia tarae

(Image credit: Francesca Benzoni, ZooKeys)

A brightly colored new species of stony coral has been discovered in the poorly studied Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. The tiny animal, dubbed Echinophyllia tarae, was found in 2011 by a French research expedition.

Holotype

(Image credit: Francesca Benzoni, ZooKeys)

The knob-shaped holotype of Echinophyllia tarae. This image shows the coral colony in situ before it was collected.

Tissue-Free

(Image credit: Francesca Benzoni, ZooKeys)

This shows the holotype after it was collected and its animal tissues removed.

Coral Collection

(Image credit: Francesca Benzoni, ZooKeys)

These specimens of the coral were collected during the study by scientists aboard the French research vessel Tara.

Corallite

(Image credit: Francesca Benzoni, ZooKeys)

The arrow points to a raised corallite, the skeleton produced by a single coral polyp. The Tara corals can be distinguished from similar species based on the thickness and protrusion of their corallites, researchers say.

Death and Recovery

(Image credit: Francesca Benzoni, ZooKeys)

Researchers noted a pattern of partial death and recovery in many of the Tara coral colonies, like the one shown here. The tiny animals may sometimes struggle to survive because of competition for food on the reef.

Skeletal Structure

(Image credit: Francesca Benzoni, ZooKeys)

A close-up of the species corallite morphology after collection.

Charismatic Creature

(Image credit: Francesca Benzoni, ZooKeys)

Researchers say the discovery of this shallow-dwelling species hints that there is still much to be learned about hard coral diversity, even though the marine animals are well studied in general.