Wellington’s solitary coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni)
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).
Once known from just a few sites in the Galápagos Islands, Wellington’s solitary coral may now already be extinct (3). It is a scleractinian coral, meaning that it is a ‘hard’ coral with a limestone skeleton (3). The polyps of Wellington’s solitary coral are deep purple-black in colour (4).
Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, where in the past it has been recorded at just a few locations around the islands of Isabela and Floreana, and the islets of Daphne, Cousins and Gordons Rocks (1).
Wellington’s solitary coral occurs under rock ledges and overhangs and on the ceilings of caves, between depths of 2 and 45 metres (1).
There is no information available on the biology of this species.
Before 1982, Wellington’s solitary coral was considered to be abundant at some sites. Then the El Niño event of 1982 and 1983 struck, which destroyed most colonies of this species, except for colonies at Cousins and Gordons Rocks. Yet since 2000, Wellington’s solitary coral has not been found even around these two small islets, despite targeted searches. The dramatic loss of this species since the El Niño event suggests that this coral is particularly sensitive to changes to the temperature of the water in which they live, and hints at their vulnerability to the effects of global climate change (1).
The unique biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands and the surrounding waters is recognised and valued, and thus the region is protected by being designated a Marine Reserve and World Heritage Site (1). Wellington’s solitary coral is also included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in this species should be carefully regulated (2). Unfortunately, neither of these measures protects this Critically Endangered coral from the threats of natural, or man-induced, climate change.
For further information on conservation in the Galápagos see:
- Charles Darwin Foundation:
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- El Niño: a natural phenomenon that happens every 4 to 12 years, and lasts for several months, when upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water does not occur. This causes the warming of ocean surface water off the western coast of South America and causes die-offs of plankton and fish. It also affects Pacific jet stream winds, altering storm tracks and creating unusual weather patterns in various parts of the world.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Polyps: typically sedentary soft-bodied components of cnidaria, a group of simple aquatic animals including the sea anemones, corals and jellyfish. A polyp comprises a trunk that is fixed at the base, and a mouth that is placed at the opposite end of the trunk and is surrounded by tentacles.
IUCN Red List (December, 2009)