Mesophotic coral-reef ecosystems (MCEs), which comprise the light-dependent communities of corals and other organisms found at depths between 30 and ~ 150 m, have received very little study to date. However, current technological advances, such as remotely operated vehicles and closed-circuit rebreather diving, now enable their thorough investigation. Following the reef-building stony corals, octocorals are the second most common benthic component on many shallow reefs and a major component on deep reefs, the Red Sea included. This study is the first to examine octocoral community features on upper MCEs based on species-level identification and to compare them with the shallower reef zones. The study was carried out at Eilat (Gulf of Aqaba, northern Red Sea), comparing octocoral communities at two mesophotic reefs (30–45 m) and two shallow reef zones (reef flat and upper fore-reef) by belt transects. A total of 30 octocoral species were identified, with higher species richness on the upper MCEs compared to the shallower reefs. Although the MCEs were found to host a higher number of species than the shallower reefs, both featured a similar diversity. Each reef zone revealed a unique octocoral species composition and distinct community structure, with only 16% of the species shared by both the MCEs and the shallower reefs. This study has revealed an almost exclusive dominance of zooxanthellate species at the studied upper MCE reefs, thus indicating an adequate light regime for photosynthesis there. The findings should encourage similar studies on other reefs, aimed at understanding the spatiotemporal features and ecological role of octocorals in reef ecosystems down to the deepest limit of the MCEs.
- Deep reef
- Mesophotic coral-reef ecosystem (MCE)
- Red Sea
- Soft corals