Abstract

Deep-water, ahermatypic coral mounds are present at water depths of 1,000-1,300 m on the lower slope north of Little Bahama Bank. The mounds are patchily distributed over a minimum area of 2,500 km 2 and typically display 5-40 m of relief above the surrounding sea bottom. A diverse benthic community exists on these apparently unlithified mounds, including l 1 genera and 16 species of ahermatypic coral ( Bathypsammia, Caryophyllia, Deltocyathus, Desmophyllum, Enallopsammia, Javania, Madrepora, Polymyces, Solenosmilia, Stephanocyathus , and a previously undescribed genus), alcyonaceans, gorgonians, antipatharians, hydroids, ophiuroids, crinoids, barnacles, galatheid crabs, polychaetes, gastropods, bivalves, and sponges. Conspicuously absent from the coral fauna are Lophelia and Dendrophyllia , common deep-water corals in other parts of the Atlantic. Radiocarbon dates on fresh coral and gorgonian fragments of 940 + or - 40 and 860 + or - 50 years indicate the mounds are at least in part Recent and are probably actively forming today. Bored and stained corals date at around 22 x 10 314 C years B. P., which establishes a minimum age for these mounds. We speculate that the mounds develop on sea-floor perturbations in areas where strong bottom currents provide needed oxygen and nutrients to the fauna. The mounds may have undergone multi-stage evolution from colony to thicket to coppice to bank. This evolution may be accomplished through the in situ contribution of skeletal material along with the baffling and trapping of fine-grained carbonate sediment winnowed from adjacent areas by bottom currents. If found in the rock record, the coral mounds north of Little Bahama Bank would probably be considered bioherms. Geologists should thus be aware that scleractinian bioherms are not uniquely shallow-water in origin. The distinction between ancient deep- and shallow-water coral buildups involves using multiple recognition criteria, including: 1) presence or absence of algae; 2) diversity of corals; 3) coral morphology and microstructure; 4) abundance of planktonic/benthonic components; 5) microborings; 6) surrounding litho- and biofacies; 7) stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen; and 8) trace element geochemistry, particularly Sr and U concentrations. The distinction between deep- and shallow-water bioherms is crucial to regional paleoenvironmental and stratigraphic interpretations.

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