Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) biologists have discovered three new species of coral in the SAR’s waters. The new marine species are hard coral and have not been identified anywhere else in the world.

In a press release, HKBU said that the new species were discovered by Professor Qiu Jian-wen and student Yiu King-fung from the university’s department of biology. They belong to the genus Tubastraea, commonly known as sun coral. The team named the three species Tubastraea dendroida, Tubastraea chloromura and Tubastraea violacea.

Professor Qiu Jianwen (right) and Mr Yiu King-fung (left) introduce the new coral species.
Mr Yiu King-fung (left) and Professor Qiu Jian-wen (right) introduce the new coral species (© HKBU)

Tubastraea dendroida

Tubastraea dendroida skeleton (left) and a colony (right) (© HKBU)

This species has the typical bright orange colour of most sun corals, but does not grow in clumps like most of its related species. Instead, it has a tree-like structure, which is why it was named ‘dendroida’, meaning ‘tree-shaped’.

Tubastraea violacea

A colony with extended tentacles (left) and another with tentacles retracted (right) (© HKBU)

This species is called ‘violacea’ as its polyp wall tissues and skeleton are violet in colour, unlike other sun coral. However, its tentacles are yellow and its corallites (skeletal cups) have a thick wall. There may be colour variants elsewhere, such as a yellow colour variant in New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

Tubastraea chloromura

Close-up of a corallite with extended tentacles (left) and a colony with tentacles retracted (right) (© HKBU)

This coral has an olive green skeletal wall and a circle of yellow tentacles surrounding its mouth. It has therefore been named ‘chloromura’ (‘chloro’ and ‘murus’ meaning ‘green’ and ‘wall’, respectively).

All three coral species are non-reef-building corals and live at depths of between 10 and 30 metres. HKBU biologists say that Tubastraea dendroida and Tubastraea violacea may be found in Japan and the Western Pacific Ocean. Currently, Tubastraea chloromura is only known to inhabit Hong Kong waters.

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With the discovery of these species of sun corals, the number of known species in the Tubastraea genus has now increased from seven to 10. The findings of the HKBU team have been will be published in the academic journal Zoological Studies.

This development comes after Professor Qui and his team identified a new species of hard coral and two new species of nudibranch, a type of marine mollusc, in October 2021.

So, ready for a dive?

Header image credits: Hong Kong Baptist University

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From the Middle East to the Far East and a couple of places in between, Anjali has lived in no fewer than seven cities in Asia, and has travelled extensively in the region. She worked as a lifestyle journalist in India before coming to Hong Kong, where her favourite thing to do is island-hopping with her daughter. You can check out her musings on motherhood, courtesy her Instagram profile.

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