Hawaii's deep-sea corals are more than 4,000 years old, making them one of the oldest living organisms on earth, say researchers.
The study, conducted by the researchers from the Texax A&M University, California University and the Australian National University, found that one of the coral species was about 4,265 years old.
“Two different species of coral beds were documented using carbon dating methods,” said lead researcher Brendan Roark of Texas A&M University's College of Geosciences.
Roark said Leiopathes (one of the coral species) is now confirmed to be about 4,265 years old, while the other specie, Gerardia, is believed to be about 2,742 years old. Both the species are much older than previously believed, he said.
The coral beds were discovered some 1,200 feet under water using submersible vehicles. One of the coral beds cover several hundred square feet, Roark said.
"The beds are quite large, but sadly, not in very good shape," he noted.
"The colour of the coral makes them highly sought-after for making jewelry. The Gerardia coral is of golden colour. There are laws protecting the beds, but harvesting still continues. The coral beds are also threatened due to fishing activities in the area,” he added.
“The age estimate of the coral beds would rank them among the oldest living creatures in continuous existence,” Roark said. Scientists know that some of the bristlecone pine trees in Northern California are also more than 4,000 years old.
It was previously believed that such coral beds were no more than a few hundred years old, "so to find out that they are thousands of years old is an exciting experience”, he said.
Roark said the coral beds could keep researchers busy for decades. "There are whole sets of ecology and biology questions that these coral beds raise."
"It's a case where one question leads to another and another, and we're still searching for some answers. The extreme age of the coral beds and their very slow growth, combined with the high levels of biodiversity surrounding the coral beds, means that protecting these reefs from further damage has to be a top priority," he said.