Researchers Andrew Baird and Tom Bridge from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and Queensland Museum Network recently visited to document the biodiversity of corals in the Lord Howe Island Marine Park, accompanied by field assistants Matt Curnock and Duan Briggs. Andrew and Tom are key members of Project Phoenix, an international collaboration seeking to re-invent hard coral taxonomy, using both old methods and new technologies.
Previous research into the biodiversity of corals around Lord Howe Island interpreted them to be a subset of species from the Great Barrier Reef. However, during Andrew’s first research visit to the island in 2010 he realised that the Lord Howe Island Marine Park supported a distinct assemblage of corals, including many species that were unlikely to occur anywhere else.
The work to identify and describe these corals has been ongoing for the past decade, with the focus of the most recent trip being staghorn corals (Acropora species). The researchers surveyed coral gardens both inside and outside the lagoon and sampled small pieces of undescribed species for genetic analysis and identification.
It is hoped that a new list of coral species for the Lord Howe Island Marine Park will be ready for publication within the next year. These results are likely to confirm higher levels of endemism than anywhere else in the world, highlighting again the significance of the world’s southernmost coral reef and the Lord Howe Island Marine Park.
More information on Project Phoenix and the recent research in the Lord Howe Island Marine Park can be found via: https://coralprojectphoenix.org/2021/04/09/march-2021-lord-howe-island/
This article appeared in The Lord Howe Island Signal, 30 April 2021.