Mediterranean corals: a hidden treasure

In the first study ever made of the corals of Capo Rizzuto Marine Protected Area, 10 species of coral were found, seven that do not host symbiotic zooxanthellae algae, two that do, and one that can either host or not host zooxanthellae. One additional species that lacks zooxanthellae was identified from a photograph, for a total of 11 species. This is a relatively good number of species for a relatively short study, and represents 50% of all shallow-water coral species known from the entire Mediterranean. Two species, Paracyathus pulchellus and Polycyathus muellerae, as well as a species identified from the photograph (Astroides calycularis) were not previously reported from the Ionian Sea. The two zooxanthellate species, Balanophyllia europaea and Cladocora caespitosa were found in areas exposed to light, and the first was most common in patches of a species of coralline algae. Fossils of Cladocora caespitosa were found in rocks near the seashore in the town of Le Castella. The azooxanthellate species were found in heavily shaded areas, on overhanging surfaces on the lower edges of boulders, in holes, and on overhanging surfaces of wrecks and vertical surfaces of deep wrecks. Over 20 species of sponges were photographed, as well as other invertebrates such as nudibranchs and bryozoans. Monitoring transects were set up and recorded for one zooxanthellate coral (Balanophyllia europaea) and other classes of organisms inhabiting the substrate, and sizes of another zooxanthellate coral (Cladocora caespitosa) were measured. Photographs of all coral species were taken and a field identification guide produced, including descriptions of the living coral species and their skeletons. The introduced and highly invasive alga Caulerpa racemosa var. cylindracea was found at most sites where it was common but not dominant. The quantitative monitoring transects set up will provide a way of monitoring the abundance of this invasive species.

Species identified: Balanophyllia europaea, Caryophyllia inornata, Cladocora caespitosa, Cladopsammia rolandi, Hoplangia durotrix, Leptopsammia pruvoti, Madracis pharensis, Paracyathus pulchellus, Phyllangia mouchezii, Polycyathus muellerae, Astroides calycularis.

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Leptopsammia pruvotiParacyathus pulchellusPhyllangia moucheziiCladocora caespitosaHoplangia durotrix scheleton

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