Black coral bears isle scientist's name


POSTED: Saturday, April 18, 2009

A common species of Hawaiian black coral named for a Mediterranean species more than 200 years ago has been renamed for Richard “;Ricky”; Grigg, world-renowned Hawaii coral reef scientist and oceanographer.

Grigg said he was “;really shocked”; when told the species previously identified as Antipathes dichotoma is now described as Antipathes griggi.

“;It's the last thing I expected. I figured if something like that ever happened, I'd be long dead,”; laughed the University of Hawaii emeritus professor of oceanography.

“;It is a fitting tribute for Rick, who recently retired and just turned 72 on Easter,”; said Samuel Kahng, who worked with Grigg as a graduate student in oceanography and is now a Hawaii Pacific University assistant professor of oceanography at Oceanic Institute.

Pointing out that black coral is Hawaii's state gemstone, Kahng said, “;Black coral ('ekaha ku moana in Hawaiian) jewelry continues to be symbolic of Hawaii and helps support a multimillion-dollar local precious-coral industry.”;

Grigg, noted big wave surfer and precious-coral researcher, still surfs a few times a week and goes into his office to do some consulting, and “;it turns out, I get a lot of things to review.”;

He published his UH master's thesis on black-coral ecology and has long studied the species now bearing his name. He said A. griggi was described as A. dichotoma in an obscure Latin journal in 1766. “;It escaped notice of all of us except Dennis Opresko.”;

Opresko, with the Smithsonian Institution and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is a world authority on the taxonomy of black corals, Grigg said. “;What he says is pretty much the bible.”;

In a paper in Pacific Science, Opresko said a study of A. dichotoma specimens from the Mediterranean “;revealed that the Hawaiian species is quite distinct from the true A. dichotoma. The Hawaiian species therefore requires the assignment of a new name.”;

Opresko said the study was based on specimens collected by Grigg, Kahng and colleagues.

Grigg says black coral “;is probably the best-managed species in the state of Hawaii”; because it's “;highly visible, sold as jewelry, and it is so beautiful and so huge when you see it on the reef, it's like you see a whale or giant ulua. It's totally memorable.”;

It is also the most abundant coral and “;the most well known in terms of public awareness and the industry in the state of Hawaii, and maybe the world,”; he added, “;because Hawaiian black coral is the best black coral in the world. ... It holds its gloss for years and years.”;