Bubblegum Coral | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Bubblegum Coral

Paragorgia arborea

Distribution

Sub-polar to polar waters in the North Atlantic and North-eastern Pacific

Ecosystem/Habitat

Hard or soft sediment in areas with strong currents

Feeding Habits

Filter feeder

Conservation Status

Not listed

Taxonomy

Class Anthozoa (corals, anemones & relatives); Order Alcyonacea (soft corals)

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Bubblegum corals are one of the largest coral species found in North America. They get their name  from their appearance: they are often bright pink and the polyps at the end of their branches resemble wads of gum. These polyps are individual animals that make up the coral colony. Bubblegum corals are cold, deep-water corals that rely on filter feeding. Each polyp has eight tentacles, which usually emerge at night to feed. The tentacles capture prey, such as plankton, that drift by in the ocean currents.

Bubblegum corals are typically a pinkish colour but they can be found in a range of colours such as red, orange and white. They grow up to six metres in height, with large, fanning branches. Each coral is a colony made up of hundreds of polyps, or individual animals. Their habitat is very different than the tropical, warm, shallow-water corals so they have unique behaviours that allow them to adapt. Tropical corals form symbiotic relationships with tiny algae called zooxanthellae, which create energy from sunlight to help feed the corals. Cold, deep-water corals do not have access to the sun’s energy, so species like bubblegum corals rely on filter-feeding. Each polyp has eight tentacles, which usually emerge at night to feed. The tentacles capture prey, such as plankton, that drift by in the ocean currents. The tentacles are also used for reproduction. The colony is supported by a “skeleton” made up of tightly-grouped calcareous spicules (needle-like skeletal parts).

Like most corals species, bubblegum corals reproduce. They are “broadcast spawners,” meaning they release huge amounts of sperm and eggs into the water column at the same time. The fertilized eggs then float along strong ocean currents until they settle on the ocean floor. While most corals anchor themselves on a hard substrate, like a rock, bubblegum corals can also anchor themselves in the mud or sand. They need to be in areas with strong currents to supply them with enough plankton to feed.

There are no fisheries that directly target bubblegum corals. However, they can be caught as bycatch, or accidental catch, in bottom contacting fishing gears such as bottom trawls, bottom longlines and dredges. They can also be easily damaged and killed by a variety of fishing gears, even if they are not brought up to the surface. There are areas with cold water corals that have been completely decimated and turned to rubble by fishing practices such as trawling. This has a devastating impact on the ocean, as coral provide habitat for many species. The destruction of habitat can reduce the productivity of fisheries, as fish and invertebrate populations that relied on the coral for a place to live decline.  

Bubblegum coral have not been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), nor have they been listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). They are a fairly widespread and well-studied cold water coral, however they are threatened by ocean warming, acidification and destructive fishing practices.

 
1. Aquarium of the Pacific. (n.d.). Bubblegum coral. Retrieved from:  http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/onlinelearningcenter/species/bubblegum_coral\
 
2. DFO. (2014, March 11). Corals and sponges of the Maritimes. Retrieved from: http://www.inter.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Maritimes/Oceans/OCMD/Coral/Corals-Sponges-Maritimes 
 
3. DFO. 2014, March 4). Corals of the Maritimes – Executive summery. Retrieved from: http://www.glf.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/e0010370 
 
4. ITIS. (n.d.). Paragorgia arborea (Linnaeus, 1758). Retrieved from: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=52108#null 
 
5. van Ofwegen, L. (2004). Paragorgia arborea (Linnaeus, 1758). Retrieved from: World Register of Marine Species at http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=125418