Xeniid soft corals: the latest news

What has happened:

There have been new developments with the Xeniid soft coral invasion in the Caribbean. The inspiration for my February 2023 original blog post was the confirmation of Unomia stolonifera in northern Cuba, which is quite close in proximity to Florida. Prior to being found in Cuba, Unomia had been confined to Venezuela, so the sighting in Cuba is cause for concern. A small colony of Unomia was first detected in the Bacuranao Cove, Cuba where it was eradicated, however, a larger patch has now been confirmed nearby in Boca de Calderas. Since soft corals in the Xeniid family can reproduce both sexually and asexually (by budding or fragmentation), scientists have concerns that this organism will biofoul, or attach onto ships and be transported to other areas.

Unomia stolonifera. Photo: U.S. Navy

The first report of a Xeniid soft coral in the United States came from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 2020. It was confirmed as Unomia stolonifera in early 2023. In October of 2023, another Xeniid species was found off of La Parguera, Puerto Rico, a suspected intentional aquarium release.

What is being done?

In February 2024, the Atlantic & Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGGRA) brought together researchers, resource managers, and non-profit organizations to deliver the Unomia Learning Exchange, an informational webinar sharing best practices and updates from around the Caribbean and United States. While Florida is still unaffected, it is critical that we continue to be vigilant and prepare for the possibility that one of the Xeniid species may find its way to local waters.

What can you do?

The Florida’s Coral Reef Resilience Program Communications Team is asking divers and snorkelers to continue looking underwater and reporting suspected sightings of Xeniid soft corals. The species in the Pulse coral family are distinguishable by:

Closeup of Unomia stolonifera polyps. The eight tentacles are easily visible. Photo: reefbuilders.com
  • Their polyps have eight tentacles around an oral opening
  • Polyps are on a stalk, large numbers of polyps on the stalks
  • Stalks are connected by stolons, or horizontal plant stem
  • Their polyps are unable to retract but open and close, giving that “pulsing” look to them

Please report sightings (namely, photos) with GPS coordinates on the AGGRA reporting platform.

If you spot a suspected Xenid soft coral, please DO NOT attempt to remove it. In addition to requiring specific permits and verification of species, proper removal is logistically challenging to perform without inadvertently breaking off pieces, potentially contributing to their spread. It is best to leave the colony intact, take photos and report.


Posted: April 15, 2024

Tags: Citizen Science, Coastal, Coral Reefs, Invasive Species, Marine, Natural Resources, Pulse Corals, Soft Coral, Unomia, Xeniids

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