Black coral has been confirmed to be living in the wider Wellington region, near the Kāpiti Marine Reserve surrounding Kāpiti Island. The discovery was made by local marine conservationist Ben Knight, and extensive genetic testing by NIWA confirmed the species. The colony is about three meters wide and is likely several hundred years old. This is the second confirmed black coral species on the west coast of New Zealand, with the only other known location being in Fiordland.
These marine invertebrates are called “black coral” due to the color of their skeleton, although they appear white. Black coral grows slowly and is considered an old and fragile species. Calls for greater protection, including potential anchoring closures and marine reserve boundary expansions, have arisen following this discovery.
The Greater Wellington Regional Council is proposing to add black coral as a site of significance for indigenous coastal biodiversity in its Natural Resources Plan, offering some protection for the species. Multiple iwi with ties to the area are interested in conversations about how to protect the coral while still allowing iwi to exercise kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, appropriate to their needs.