Black Coral Discovered off Hawaii May Be Earth’s Longest Living Species, NOAA’s Carbon Dating Suggests

by Owen James Burke

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Above: This Hawaiian black coral (Leiopathes annosa) can live for over 4,000 years. Image: Chris Kelley/HURL/NOAA.

If this deep sea black coral (Leiopathes annosa) discovered off Hawaii isn’t the longest living organism on earth known to science, that is), then it is at least the oldest specimen ever discovered at sea.

Counting rings and using radiocarbon dating, as with trees, marine biologists found one particular organism to be at least 4,000 years old.

Formerly mistakenly identified as a Mediterranean species, Leiopathes annosa–annosa meaning “long-lived”–the coral was found by the University of Hawaii’s Undersea Research Lab (HURL) and their trusty Pisces submarines, at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument between 1,000 and 1,600 feet.

Currently, scientists generally accept that a bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva, located somewhere in California, is the oldest living thing on earth at 5,064 years young.

Still, if scientists are just now discovering that some corals can also live for thousands of years, there’s a very good chance that something much the bristlecone pine’s senior is alive and well somewhere within the oceans.

Read more at Maui Now, and the full report can be viewed at Zootaxa. –OJB

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