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First coral reef found in Iraq

By Leonard Ho - Posted Mar 10, 2014 09:00 AM
We know there are coral reefs in the Persian Gulf, but until recently, we did not know there were reefs in Iraqi waters. A team of divers from the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology in Germany and the Marine Science Center at the University of Basrah in Iraq made the surprising discovery.

Credit: Thomas Pohl
Credit: Thomas Pohl

Reef Life Finds A Way

Iraq is almost entirely landlocked except for a narrow stretch of land bordering the Persian Gulf where the Shatt al-Arab river exits into the sea.  Previously, scientists did not believe corals could exist there because its conditions are extremely inhospitable for corals.  The river causes drastic fluctuations in temperatures (57-93°F, 14-34°C), rapidly shifting salinity, and very high turbidity due to sediment and sometimes even crude oil runoff from the river.

"Not ideal for coral growth" is an understatement.

Yet, corals grow here and not just a handful of species.  The dive team identified multiple photosynthetic stony corals including Platygyra pini, Turbinaria stellata, Porites lobata, Porites sp., and Goniastrea edwardsi.  They also discovered azooxanthellate stony corals Astroides calycularis and Tubastrea sp. as well as a number of octocorals (e.g. soft corals and gorgonians) such as Junceella juncea and Menella sp.  Amongst these corals lived other reef organisms like brittle stars.

The unexpected discovery was first made in September 2012 with subsequent surveys identifying more corals.  Their findings was published this month in Nature's Scientific Report.

This reef may not look like much, but the fact that it exists in such a hostile environment is amazing in and of itself.

Credit: Thomas Pohl
Credit: Thomas Pohl

Credit: Thomas Pohl
Credit: Thomas Pohl

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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