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  6. A bounty of Canadian marine corals and sponges donated to the Canadian Museum of Nature

A bounty of Canadian marine corals and sponges donated to the Canadian Museum of Nature

Pierre Poirier © Canadian Museum of Nature.


Assistant collections manager Philippe Ste-Marie holding a specimen of bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea) . 

February 17, 2021 - The Canadian Museum of Nature’s national collections have expanded following a significant donation of cold-water corals and sponges by Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists based in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The specimens, 572 in total, arrived as a holiday “gift” at the museum’s national collections facility in Gatineau, Quebec in mid-December 2020. The majority of the specimens are corals, and there are 27 sponges. They have since been carefully unpacked, processed and documented to be curated among the millions of specimens in the museum’s invertebrate collections.

Overall, the museum’s national collections of plants, animals, fossils and minerals provide a baseline of information that tracks biological and geological diversity over time. As such, they can be used to help answer a range of scientific questions that includes issues related to conservation, climate change, habitat loss and species discovery.

The newly acquired corals and sponges, and the data associated with them, will now be made available for study by scientists worldwide. Information such as the species name, where and when each were collected, and a photo of the specimen, will be freely shared through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

A number of the donated corals stand out for their size (a metre or more long), lobed structure, and evocative common names that describe their colour or appearance. Among these are the bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea), ivory stone coral (Flabellum (Ulocyathus) alabastrum) and bonsai bamboo coral (Acanella arbuscula).

“The museum has often relied on collaborators to enhance its collections, and these well-preserved samples from Fisheries and Oceans Canada add to our knowledge of the biodiversity found in Canada’s oceans,” says Dr. Jean-Marc Gagnon, the museum’s curator of invertebrates and Chief Scientist. “These corals and sponges now join our other marine specimens, collected over 150 years, that cover most groups of organisms living on or near the sea bottom, in the water column and even in sea ice.”

While many may associate corals with tropical waters, they are certainly present in colder marine environments. Similar to their warm-water “cousins”, cold-water corals provide habitat and nurseries for many marine species, and their presence is integral to healthy and productive ecosystems. The presence of certain species can also be used as indicators for potential or existing marine conservation areas. There is still lots to learn as the relationships among the corals and other species are not always well understood.

In all, the donation adds new records for seven biological families and 27 species that were not previously documented in the museum’s collections. “The donation greatly increases the variety of these marine animals available for study, most of which are difficult to collect and to examine close-up due to their deep-water habitats” explains Gagnon.

Tissue samples of the specimens will also be deposited in the museum’s National Biodiversity of Canada Cryobank, where they can be accessed for molecular research to answer questions related to conservation, evolution and the verification or description of species.

The specimens were collected at 194 locations during research surveys by Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists from 2005 to 2019. The surveys ranged from Canada’s Eastern Arctic to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, including the areas known as Flemish Pass and Flemish Cap. 

NOTE TO MEDIA: Photos and video of the specimens in the museum’s collections are available upon request. 

For more information
Dan Smythe
Head, Media Relations
Canadian Museum of Nature
613.698.9253 (cell)