SANTA BARBARA - Scientists have discovered a new species of brushy coral that flames like a white and pink Christmas tree hundreds of feet below the Channel Islands.
Milton Love, a marine biologist at UC Santa Barbara, and colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered healthy colonies of the coral while making fish surveys in a submersible in 2002.
The corals are home to thriving undersea communities.
Love said scientists have found a new species of worm there, "a new animal living on the new animal."
The life form is a type of black coral (the color it turns when it dies). Samples were sent to expert Dennis Opresko at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
His description of the new species appeared Tuesday in the online journal Zootaxa along with its Greek name: Antipathes dendrochristos.
"Antipathes" refers to the ancient belief that amulets of black coral can prevent illness and "dendrochristos" is a reference to the Christmas tree.
In fact, there may be two new species, although DNA testing will be needed to confirm that, Opresko said Wednesday.
There are about 230 species of black coral around the world, from the tropics to Antarctica. Six or seven new ones may be formally named this year alone, Opresko said. Most are in deep water and some types are prized for jewelry.
The use of submersibles and remote cameras has opened up the deep sea, allowing more discoveries, Opresko said.