Snowflake Corals growth off Thiruvananthapuram poses threat to Marine Ecology

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Who: Snowflake Corals growth
Where: Off the coast of Thiruvananthpuram and Kanyakumari
What: Poses threat to Marine Ecology

Scuba divers working for Friends of Marine Life (FML) in December 2015 recorded the presence of several colonies of the fast-growing alien species Snowflake Coral (Carijoa riisei) off the coast of Thiruvananthpuram and Kanyakumari. Freinds of Marine Life (FML) is a local NGO.

As per scientists colonies of the snowflake, an invasive species, could pose a serious threat to the marine ecology of the region.

The species was found amid clusters of rocky reef off the coast of Kovalam at 10 meter depth in Thiruvananthapuram and Enayam at 18 meter depth in Kanyakumari.

The species was documented as part of a research project harnessing the traditional knowledge of the fishermen community to access the marine biodiversity of the region. The project was coordinated by researcher Robert Panipilla.

Snowflake Coral (Carijoa riisei)

Carijoa riisei, the snowflake coral (branched pipe coral), is a species of soft coral in the family Clavulariidae.
• It is native to the tropical western Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Its range extends from South Carolina to Brazil.
• But at present it has spread to other areas of the world such as Hawaii, where it is regarded as an invasive species.
• It is a shade-loving species and grows on underwater hard surfaces away from direct sunlight. These include caves, overhangs, ledges and under piers. It is a fouling organism and will grow on metal, wood, concrete, plastic and rope.
• It thrives in turbid water with moderate to strong currents or wave action.
• It has the capacity to dominate space and crowd out other marine organisms.

Periodic expansion of the Species
Snowflake Coral was first reported as an invasive species in 1972 from Hawaii when it appeared in Pearl Harbor. Since then it has spread to other islands in the archipelago like Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In context of India, its existence off Indian coasts was first reported in May 2009 in Kundol Island in Nicobar. Later, its existence was reported across coral reef colonies in the Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kutch, Goa and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Why its expansion is a threat?
Its expansion may crowd out other species like corals, sponges, algae, ascidians that contribute to the rich marine biodiversity of the region. They can monopolise the food and space resources of the coral reef ecosystem, and exhibits high fecundity.