Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access


Australia’s deep-water octocoral fauna: historical account and checklist, distributions and regional affinities of recent collections



The number of deep-water (>80 m) octocoral species recorded from Australian waters has more than tripled from 135 to 457 following six surveys undertaken between 1997 and 2008 on the deep continental margin of south-eastern, western and north-western Australia and the Tasman Sea.  This rapid increase in knowledge follows a slow accumulation of records since the earliest collections were made by vessels such as the Géographe and the Naturaliste in the early years of the 19th century. Consistent identification and alpha-labelling of the octocoral fauna between surveys has permitted a multi-region description and comparison.  We detail the identities, distributions and regional affinities of 457 octocoral species in 131 genera and 28 families from the orders Alcyonacea and Pennatulacea, including 69 new species, 17 new genera and 43 first records for Australia. Five of the more common genera were widely distributed (present at 35 and 66 sampling stations spanning all of the 4 survey regions), but two were restricted to south-eastern Australia—Pleurogorgia Versluys, 1902 and Tokoprymno Bayer, 1996—and were only sampled from depths below 700 m.  The great majority of species (81%) and nearly half of all genera (47%) were only sampled once or twice.  The highest average number of species per sampling station (3.2) was reported from the outer shelf. The proportion of new species was highest (>22%) on the upper and lower slope bathomes, intermediate (13–15%) on the mid-slope bathome and lowest (8%) on the outer shelf bathome.  Species overlap between bathomes was low, but all families were shared across bathomes. Most described species (55 of 69) have an Indo-West Pacific affinity, 20 have an Indian Ocean affinity, while three were previously recorded from the Atlantic Ocean only; 20 appear to be Australian endemics. Octocorals can now be added to an emerging set of taxon-specific data sets—including fishes, ophiuroids and galatheids—that permit regional-scale analysis of biodiversity distributions to support Australia’s efforts in marine conservation management. However, because so much of the world octocoral literature is inadequate for accurate identifications to species level, there is a pressing need for taxonomic revisions using modern morphological and molecular techniques to fine-tune the current use of octocorals as indicators of vulnerable marine ecosystems in many national and high seas conservation initiatives.


Coelenterata, fauna,


Alderslade, P. (1998) Revisionary systematics in the gorgonian family Isididae, with descriptions of numerous taxa (Coelenterata: Octocorallia). Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement No. 55, 1–359.

Alderslade, P. (2003a) A new genus and new species of soft coral (Octocorallia: Alcyonacea: Alcyoniidae) from the south western region of Australia. Zootaxa, 175, 1–10.

Alderslade, P. (2003b) A new genus and species of soft coral (Octocorallia: Alcyonacea: Alcyoniidae) from Lord Howe Island, Australia. Zoologische Vehandelingen, Leiden, 345, 20–29.

Alderslade, P. (2006) New subfamilies and a new genus and species of Melithaeidae (Coelenterata: Octocorallia: Alcyonacea) with comparative data on the structure of both melithaeid and subergorgiid axes. Zootaxa, 1199, 19–47.

Alderslade, P. & McFadden, C.S. (2012) A new genus and species of the family Isididae (Coelenterata: Octocorallia) from a CMAR Biodiversity study, and a discussion on the subfamilial placement of some nominal isidid genera. Zootaxa, 3154, 21–39.

Baillon, S, Hamel, J.-F., Wareham, V.E. & Mercier, A. (2012) Deep cold-water corals as nurseries for fish larvae. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7, 351–356.

Bayer, F.M. & Stefani, J. (1987) Isididae (Gorgonacea) de Nouvelle-Calédonie, Nouvelle clé des genres de la famille. Bulletin Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, (4), 9 (A no.1), 47–106.

Briggs, E.A. (1915) Report on the Alcyonarians obtained by the F.I.S. “Endeavour” on the eastern and southern coasts of Australia. Part 1. Biological Results of the Fishing Experiments carried on by the F.I.S. “Endeavour,” 1909-1904, 3 (2), pp. 61–93, pls. iv–xii.

Broch, H. (1910) Pennatulida. In: Michaelsen, W. & Hartmeyer, R. (Eds.), Die Fauna Südwest-Australiens. Ergebnisse der Hamburger südwest-australischen Forschungsreise 1905, 3 (2), pp. 111–121.

Broch, H. (1916) Results of Dr. E. Mjöberg’s Swedisch scientific expeditions to Australia 1910-1913. XI. Alcyonarien. Kungliga Svenska Vetenskapsakademiens Handlingar, 52 (11), 3–48.

Buhl-Mortensen, L., Vanreusel, A., Gooday, A.J., Levin, L.A., Priede, I.G., Buhl-Mortensen, P., Gheerardyn, H., King, N.J. & Raes, M. (2010) Biological structures as a source of habitat heterogeneity and biodiversity on the deep ocean margins. Marine Ecology, 31, 21–50.

Butler, A.J., Rees, T., Beesley, P. & Bax, N.J. (2010) Marine Biodiversity in the Australian Region. PLoS ONE, 5, e11831.

Cairns, S.D. & Bayer, F.M. (2009) A generic revision and phylogenetic analysis of the Primnoidae (Cnidaria: Octocorallia). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, 629, 1–79.

Compton, T.J., Bowden, D.A., Pitcher, C.R., Hewitt, J.E. & Ellis, N. (2013) Biophysical patterns in benthic assemblage composition across contrasting continental margins off New Zealand. Journal of Biogeography, 40, 75–89.

CSIRO (2013) CSIRO – Codes for Australian aquatic biota (CAAB). Available from: (accessed 16 October 2013)

Clark, M., Roberts, C., Williams, A. & Last, P. (2003) Voyage report of a biodiversity survey of seamounts and slopes of the Norfolk Ridge and Lord Howe Rise (NORANZ), May-June 2003, 44 pp. Avaialble from: (accessed 16 October 2013)]

Clarke, K.R. & Gorley, R.N. (2006) Primer v6: User Manual/ Tutorial. Primer-E: Plymouth, 190 pp.

Dunstan, P.K., Althaus, F., Williams, A. & Bax, N.J. (2012) Characterising and Predicting Benthic Biodiversity for Conservation Planning in Deepwater Environments. PLoS ONE, 7, e36558.

FAO (2008) International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas: Annex F of the Report of the Technical Consultation on International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas. 4–8 February and 25–29 August 2008, Rome, 17 pp.

Forest, J. (1981) Compte rendu et remarques générales (texte bilingue) / Report and general comments (bilingual text). Résultats des campagnes MUSORSTOM, 1, Mémoires ORSTOM, 91, 9–50.

Grant, R.B. (1976) The marine fauna of New Zealand: Isididae (Octocorallia: Gorgonacea) from New Zealand and the Antarctic. Memoirs of the New Zealand Oceanographic Institute, Wellington, 66, 1–56.

Gray, J.E. (1869) Descriptions of some new genera and species of Alcyonoid corals in the British Museum. The Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Sereis 4, 3, 21–23.

Gray, J.E. (1870) Catalogue of sea-pens or Pennatulidae in the collection of the British Museum. British Museum, London, 40 pp.

Guinotte, J.M. & Fabry, V.J. (2008) Ocean acidification and its potential effects on marine ecosystems. In: Ostfeld, R.S. & Schlesinger, W.H. (Eds.), Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology 2008. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK, pp. 320–342.

Hickson, S.J. (1890) Preliminary report on a collection of Alcyonaria from Port Philip. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, Melbourne, New Series, 2 (2), 136–140.

Hickson, S.J. (1894) A revision of the genera of the Alcyonaria Stolonifera, with a description of one new genus and several new species. Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, 13 (9), 325–347, pls 45–50.

Hooper, J. & Ekins, M. (2005) Collation and validation of museum collection databases related to the distribution of marine sponges in northern Australia. Queensland Museum report to the National Oceans Office. Queensland Museum, South Brisbane, 272 pp.

Hooper, J.N.A. & Lévi, C. (1994) Biogeography of Indo-west Pacific sponges: Microcionidae, Raspailiidae, Axinellidae. In: van Soest R.W.M., van Kempen T.M.G. & Braekman, J.-C. (Eds.), Sponges in Time and Space. Balkema, Rotterdam, pp. 191–212.

Jones, D.S. (2012) Australian Barnacles (Cirripedia: Thoracica), Distributions and Biogeographical Affinities. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 52, 366–387.

Keesing, J.K., Irvine, T.R., Alderslade, P., Clapin, G., Fromont, J., Hosie, A.M., Husiman, J.M. Phillips, J.C., Naughton, K.M., March, L.M., Slack-Smith, S.M., Thomson, D.P. & Watson, J.E. (2011) Marine benthic flora and fauna of Gourdon Bay and the Dampier Penisula in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, 94, 285–301.

Koslow, J.A. & Gowlett-Holmes, K. (1998) The seamount fauna off southern Tasmania: benthic communities, their conservation and impacts of trawling. CSIRO Report 95/08, CSIRO Marine Research Hobart, Australia, 104 pp.

Koslow, J.A., Gowlett-Holmes, K., Lowry, J.K., O'Hara, T., Poore, G.C.B. & Williams, A. (2001) Seamount benthic macrofauna off Southern Tasmania: community structure and impacts of trawling. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 213, 111–125.

Kükenthal (1910) Alcyonaria. 1. Teil. In: Michaelsen, W. & Hartmeyer, R. (Eds.), Die Fauna Südwest-Australiens. Ergebnisse der Hamburger südwest-australischen Forschungsreise 1905, 3 (1), pp. 1–108.

Last, P., Lyne, V., Yearsley, G., Gledhill, D., Gomon, M., Rees, T. & White, W. (2005) Validation of national demersal fish datasets for the regionalisation of the Australian continental slope and outer shelf (>40 m depth). Department of the Environment and Heritage and CSIRO Marine Research, Hobart, 99 pp.

Last, P.R., Lyne, V.D., Williams, A., Davies, C.R., Butler, A.J. & Yearsley, G.K. (2010) A hierarchical framework for classifying seabed biodiversity with application to planning and managing Australia’s marine biological resources. Biological Conservation, 143, 1675–1686.

Le Guilloux, E., Hall-Spencer, J.M., Soeffker, M.K. & Olu, K. (2010) Association between the squat lobster Gastroptychus formosus and cold-water corals in the North Atlantic. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 90, 1363–1369.

Lewis, M. (1999) Csiro-Sebs (Seamount, Epibenthic Sampler), a new epibenthic sled for sampling seamounts and other rough terrain. Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers, 46, 1101–1107.

Lewis, M. (2009) Sherman, the epibenthic sled for rough terrain. CSIRO, Hobart, Tasmania, 15 pp. Available from: (accessed 16 October 2013)

Lewis, M. (2010) The CSIRO 4m Beam Trawl. CSIRO, Hobart, Tasmania, 17 pp. Available from: (accessed 16 October 2013)

Macpherson, E., Richer de Forges, B., Schnabel, K.E., Samadi, S., Boisselier, M.-C. & Garcia-Rubies, A. (2010) Biogeography of the deep-sea galatheid squat lobsters of the Pacific Ocean. Deep sea Research I, 57, 228–238.

McCallum, A.W. (2011) Fishes and invertebrates on the continental margin of western Australia: are diversity patterns congruent between taxa? In: Decapod crustacean diversity along Australia's western continental margin. Department of Zoology. PhD. University of Melbourne, Melbourne, pp. 163–183. Available from: (accessed 16 October 2013)

McEnnulty, F.R., Gowlett-Holmes, K.L., Williams, A., Althaus, F., Fromont, J., Poore, G.C.B., O’Hara, T.D., Marsh, L., Kott. P., Slack-Smith, S., Alderslade, P. & Kitahara, M.V. (2011) The deepwater megabenthic invertebrates on the western continental margin of Australia (100–1500 m depths): composition, distribution and novelty. Records of the Western Australian Museum, 80 (Supplement 1), 1–191.

MNF (2005) Voyage summary SS10/2005 – Mapping benthic ecosystems on the deep continental shelf and slope in Australia's "South West Region" to understand evolution and biogeography and support implementation of the SW Regional Marine Plan and Commonwealth Marine Protected Areas, 19 pp. Available from: (accessed 16 October 2013)

MNF (2007a) Voyage summary SS02/2007 – Survey and monitoring for SE MPAs including the Tasmanian Seamounts Marine Reserve, 12 pp. Available from: (accessed 16 October 2013)

MNF (2007b) Voyage summary SS05/2007 – Exploring and characterising marine ecosystems in the NW Region (Characterising the benthic biogeography of the deep continental shelf and slope in Australia’s “North West Region”, with emphasis on the processes maintaining (and threatening) biodiversity, and support for implementing the NW Regional Marine Plan and Commonwealth Marine Protected Areas, 19 pp. Available from: (accessed 16 October 2013)

Ofwegen, L.P. van (2005) A new genus of nephtheid soft corals (Octocorallia: Alcyonacea: Nephtheidae) from the Indo-Pacific. Zoologische Mededelingen, Leiden, 79 (4), 1–236.

O’Hara, T.D. & Poore, G.C.B. (2000) Distribution and origin of Southern Australian echinoderms and decapods. Journal of Biogeography, 27, 1321–1335.

O'Hara, T., Rowden, A.A. & Bax, N.J. (2011) A Southern Hemisphere bathyal fauna is distributed in latitudinal bands, Current Biology, 21 (3), 226–230.

Orejas, C., Gori, A., Lo Iacono, C., Puig, P., Gili, J.-M. & Dale, M.R.T. (2009) Cold-water corals in the Cap de Creus canyon, north-western Mediterranean: spatial distribution, density and anthropogenic impact. Marine Ecology-Progress Series, 397, 37–51.

Pante, E. & France, S.C. (2010) Pseudochrysogorgia bellona n. gen, n. sp.: a new genus and species of chrysogorgiid octocoral (Coelentaerata, Anthozoa) from the Coral Sea. Zoosystema, 32, 595–612.

Pante, E., Hestand-Saucier, E., France, S.C. (2013) Molecular and morphological data support reclassification of the octocoral genus Isidoides. Invertebrate Systematics, 27, 365–378.

Parker, S.J., Penney, A.J. & Clark, M.R. (2009) Detection criteria for managing trawl impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems in high seas fisheries of the South Pacific Ocean. Marine Ecology-Progress Series, 397, 309–317.

Péron, F., Frecynet, L.C.D. de, Lesueur, C.A., Petit, N-M. & Baudin, N. (1807) Voyage de découvertes aux terres Australie, exécuté par ordre de Sa Majesté l’Empereur et Roi, sur les corvettes le Géographe, le Naturaliste, et la Goélette le Casuarina, pendant les années 1800, 18001, 1802, 1803 et 1804; publié par décret impérial, sous le ministère de M. de Champagney et rédigé par M. F. Péron…(tome premier). De l'Imprimerie Impériale, Paris, 496 pp.

Pitcher, C.R., Doherty, P., Arnold, P., Hooper, J., Gribble, N., Bartlett, C., Browne, M., Campbell, N., Cannard, T., Cappo, M., Carini, G., Chalmers, S., Cheers, S., Chetwynd, D., Colefax, A., Coles, R., Cook, S., Davie, P., De'ath, G., Devereux, D., Done, B., Donovan, T., Ehrke, B., Ellis, N., Ericson, G., Fellegara, I., Forcey, K., Furey, M., Gledhill, D., Good, N., Gordon, S., Haywood, M., Hendriks, P., Jacobsen, I., Johnson, J., Jones, M., Kinninmoth, S., Kistle, S., Last, P., Leite, A., Marks, S., McLeod, I., Oczkowicz, S., Robinson, M., Rose, C., Seabright, D., Sheils, J., Sherlock, M., Skelton, P., Smith, D., Smith, G., Speare, P., Stowar, M., Strickland, C., Van der Geest, C., Venables, W., Walsh, C., Wassenberg, T., Welna, A. & Yearsley, G. (2007) Seabed Biodiversity on the Continental Shelf of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. AIMS/CSIRO/QM/QDPI CRC Reef Research Task Final Report, Australia, 320 pp.

Rogers, A.D., Baco, A., Griffiths, H., Hart, T. & Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2007) Corals on seamounts. In Pitcher, T.J, Morato, T., Hart, P.J.B., Clark, M.R., Haggen, N. & Santos, R.S. (Eds.), Seamounts: Ecology, Fisheries & Conservation. Fish and Aquatic Resources Series 12, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK, 141–169.

Sánchez, J.A. (2005) Systematics of the bubblegum corals (Cnidaria: Octocorallia: Paragorgiidae) with descriptions of new species from New Zealand and the Eastern Pacific. Zootaxa, 1014, 1–72.

Studer, T. (1878) Übersicht der Anthozoa Alcyonaria, welche während der Reise S. M. S. Gazelle um die Erde gesammelt wurden. Monatsberichte Königliche Preussiche Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, 1878, 632–688.

Tracey, D.M., Carter, M.E. & Parker, S.J. (2010) Evaluation of VME taxa monitoring by observers from five vessels in the Ross Sea region Antarctic toothfish longline fisheries during the 2009-10 season. TASO-10/10. Agenda Item No(s) 3, 4 (and FSA 9), 16 pp.

Tracey, D., Parker, S.J., Mackay, E., Anderson, O. & Ramm, K. (2007) Classification guide for potentially vulnerable invertebrate taxa in the SPRFMO Area. SP-08-SWG-DW-03.

Thresher, R., Williams, A. & Gowlett-Holmes, K. (2009) Biodiversity and conservation ecology of the deep ocean environments within the Huon and Tasman Fracture Commonwealth Marine Reserves – A study of the biodiversity, conservation ecology and potential threats to deep reef assemblages within the Huon and Tasman Fracture Commonwealth Marine Reserves. Final Report to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. CSIRO, Hobart, 109 pp.

Utinomi, H. (1975) Octocorallia collected by trawling in the Western Australia (A biological result of I.I.O.E.—Collections). Publications of the Seto Marine Laboratory, 22 (5), 237–266.

Verseveldt, J. (1977) Australian Octocorallia (Coelenterata). Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 28, 171–240.

Williams, G.C. (1995a) The enigmatic sea pen genus Gyrophyllum—A phylogeneric reassessment and description of G. sibogae from Tasmanian waters (Coelenterata: Octocorallia). Proceedings of the Californis Academy of Sciences, 48 (15), 315–328.

Williams, G.C. (1995b) Revision of the pennatulacean genus Sarcoptilus (Coelenterata: Octocorallia), with descriptions of three new species from southern Australia. Proceedings of the South Australian Museum, 28 (1), 13–32.

Williams, G.C. & Alderslade, P. (2011) Three new species of pennatulacean octocorals with the ability to attach to rocky substrata (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Pennatulacea). Zootaxa, 3001, 33–48.

Williams, A., Althaus, F., Dunstan, P.K., Poore, G.C.B., Bax, N.J., Kloser, R.J. & McEnnulty, F.R. (2010) Scales of habitat heterogeneity and megabenthos biodiversity on an extensive Australian continental margin (100–1100 m depths). Marine Ecology, 31, 222–236.

Williams, A., Althaus, F., Fuller, M., Klaer, N. & Barker, B. (2011a) Bottom fishery impact assessment: Australian report for Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) Final Report to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. CSIRO Hobart, Australia, 84 pp. Available from: (accessed 16 October 2013)

Williams, A., Althaus, F., Fuller, M., Klaer, N. & Barker, B. (2011b) Bottom fishery impact assessment: Australian report for the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) Final Report to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. CSIRO Hobart, Australia, 86 pp. Available from: (accessed 16 October 16 2013)

Williams, A., Althaus, F., Clark, M.R. & Gowlett-Holmes, K. (2011c) Composition and distribution of deep-sea benthic invertebrate megafauna on the Lord Howe Rise and Norfolk Ridge, southwest Pacific Ocean. Deep Sea Research II, 58, 948–958.

Wright, E.P. & Studer, Th. (1889) Report on the Alcyonaria collected by H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873-1876. Report on the scientific results of the voyage of the H.M.S Challenger during the years 1873-76, Zoology, 31, lxxxvii + 314 pp.

Yesson, C., Taylor, M.L., Tittensor, D.P., Davies, A.J., Guinotte, J., Baco, A., Black, J., Hall-Spencer, J.M. & Rogers, A.D. (2012) Global habitat suitability of cold-water octocorals. Joural of Biogeography, 39, 1278–1292.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 1175-5326 (Print Edition) & ISSN 1175-5334 (Online Edition)
Published by Magnolia Press, Auckland, New Zealand
A founding journal of Biotaxa