Schizoculina fissipara
(Schizoculina fissipara)
Schizoculina fissipara is a zooxanthellate coral native to West Africa. Encrusting or branching in form, this species can be over 1 metre across in size and is light brown or blue-grey in colour. Schizoculina fissipara is one of just two species in the Schizoculina genus and belongs to the Oculinidae family, which has a long evolutionary history dating back to the Cretaceous period. The population size of Schizoculina fissipara is unknown and it receives no species specific conservation. Threats to this species include over-fishing, habitat destruction, sedimentation, pollution, oil, gas and mining activities, the live coral trade, coral bleaching and ocean acidification.
Urgent Conservation Actions
The extent of trade in Schizoculina fissipara needs to be assessed.
Eastern Atlantic Ocean

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Scleractinia
Family: Oculinidae
The Oculinidae family has a long evolutionary history dating back to the Cretaceous period. The Schizoculina genus contains just two species, S. africana and S. fissipara. Recent phylogeny analysis by Fukami (2008) has placed the Schizoculina genus into a clade with other members of the Oculinidae and Faviidae families (Clade XIII).
Colonies up to and over 1 metre across

Schizoculina fissipara is an encrusting or branching species that can grow up to 1 metre across in size. Branches grow more upright than the similar species Schizoculina africana and branching may be extensive. Corallites are circular in shape and between 4 and 5 millimetres in diameter. When tentacls are extended they are short and pale in colour. Colonies of Schizoculina fissipara may be light brown or blue-grey in colour.

Schizoculina fissipara is a zooxanthellate coral which means it obtains some of its energy requirements from a symbiotic single celled algae living in the tissue of the colony. These zooxanthellae require sunlight for photosynthesis so Schizoculina fissipara is found at depths at which light is available.

Schizoculina fissipara grows through an asexual process called extratentacular budding. In this process the colony expands and grows as parent polyps produce a daughter polyp outside of its walls, which is often smaller than the parent polyp.

Sexual reproduction is likely to occur on annual cycle and most corals are hermaphroditic (male and female). Eggs and sperm will be released from the colony at the same time and fertilised eggs develop into planulae which are carried in water currents until they settle on to substrate and develop into a polyp.
Schizoculina fissipara is found on rocky foreshores at depths up to 35m.
Schizoculina fissipara is only found in the East Atlantic Ocean along the coast of West Africa.

Countries to which Schizoculina africana is native include Cameroon, Cape Verde, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
Population Estimate
There is no species-specific population estimate available for Schizoculina fissipara.
Population Trend
The population trend of Schizoculina fissipara is unknown but globally 19% of coral reefs have been lost with further declines in coral cover expected.
Data Deficient 2010.4 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
The threats to Schizoculina fissipara are over-fishing, habitat destruction, sedimentation, pollution, oil, gas and mining activities, live coral trade, coral bleaching and ocean acidification.

Over-fishing is a threat to coral reefs across the globe and West Africa is no exception. Both artisanal and industrial fishing is leading to a decline in fish populations  The loss of herbivorous fish in particular has serious consequences for the health of the coral reef. Over-fishing can lead to coral reefs becoming dominated by algae in what is known as a “phase shift”.

Habitat destruction can be caused by human activities, such as shipping or destructive fishing techniques, and there is a growing oil, gas and mining industry in the Eastern Atlantic that may also be causing damage to coral reefs. The destruction of coastal habitats such as mangroves and seagrass beds has a knock-on effect on the health of the coral reefs, as the removal of these natural sediment stabilising habitats allows sediment to be washed onto the reef reducing light availability and smothering corals. This sediment can physically suffocate corals and increase the stress placed on corals, making them more susceptible to bleaching and disease.

Coral bleaching is the expulsion of zooxanthellae from coral tissue in response to stress caused by higher than normal sea temperatures, high irradiance, pollution (which lowers water quality) and sedimentation. When stress is prolonged the coral tissue may die, and the frequency of bleaching events looks set to increase as global temperatures continue to rise.

Ocean acidification is the changing pH of ocean water caused by increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. As more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities, more CO2 is dissolving in to the ocean lowering the pH. This change is making the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral more brittle and slower to grow.

The aquarium trade is a new threat to Schizoculina fissipara. There is currently no CITES export quota for Schizoculina fissipara but live, wild pieces of this species have been available for sale on the internet. The extent of this trade is currently unclear but the collection of Schizoculina fissipara may be causing physical damage to the reef as well as a decline in population size.
Conservation Underway
Schizoculina africana is listed with all Scleractinia corals on CITES Appendix II which regulates the international trade of threatened species.

There is no species-specific conservation underway for Schizoculina Africana.  However there is an extensive conservation programme in place caked RAMPOA – the West African Regional MPA network that was established in 2007. This programme is receiving a high level of political support and its aims include increasing knowledge exchange and Marine Protected Area (MPA) management effectiveness. Currently the RAMPOA includes 22 MPAs from 5 countries (Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Guinea) and covers 18,872 km2 of marine habitats.

Seven West African countries (Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, The Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea and Sierra Leone) have addressed the threat of over-fishing by implementing activities that can co-ordinate the fisheries management better. These activities have been running for several years, demonstrating a long term commitment to conservation management.
Conservation Proposed
Measures that would benefit the improvement of the RAMPOA include a better integration of MPAs and the network into working policies, enhancing the management of MPAs, sourcing sustainable funding and strengthening the functional and institutional capacities of the network.

There is no current CITES export quote for Schizoculina fissipara and it is advised that a quota is set for the export of this species from West African countries to prevent over-exploitation. This measure should be accompanied by a population survey of Schizoculina fissipara to determine if this species can be sustainably harvested.

Further research into the ecology of this species would also help the creation of a species specific conservation action plan.

Obura, D., Fenner, D., Hoeksema, B., Devantier, L. & Sheppard, C. 2008. Schizoculina fissipara. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <>. Downloaded on 03 January 2011.

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2009). Scientific Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity. Montreal, Technical Series No. 46, 61 pages.

Toropova, C , et al. (2010) 4 Meeting Global Goals at Regional Scales and in the High Seas. In Toropova, C., Meliane, I., Laffoley, D., Matthews, E. and Spalding, M. (eds.) (2010). Global

Ocean Protection: Present Status and Future Possibilities. Brest, France: Agence des aires marines protégées, Gland, Switzerland, Washington, DC and New York, USA: IUCN WCPA, Cambridge, UK : UNEP-WCMC, Arlington, USA: TNC, Tokyo, Japan: UNU, New York, USA:WCS. 96pp.

Veron J.E.N. 2000. Corals of the World. Volume 2. Townsville. Australian Institute of Marine Science

Veron, J.E.N. et al. 2009. The coral reef crises: The critical importance of <350 ppm CO2. Mar Pollut Bull. 58:1428-1436

Wilkinson, C. 2008. Status of coral reefs of the world: 2008. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Center, Townsville, Australia.


Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Spatial Data Collection.

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