Misidentification of stromatolites at the Giant's Causeway

A couple of weeks ago, the BBC published a news story describing the discovery of a 'stromatolite colony' at the Giant's Causeway.

The Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

In my role as newsletter reporter for the Palaeontological Association, I posted the link to the News Feed of the association website.  I have to confess I didn't peruse the story very closely: I thought the novelty of microbes in the news was sufficient to make it worth publicizing.

I didn't realize, however, that I would inadvertently generate controversy.  Today I received an email telling me I had made 'a very serious mistake' and that if the identifier of the stromatolites had consulted the Algaebase they would have found many other (non-stromatolitic) types of cyanobacteria that would fit the description of the Giant's Causeway specimens.

I was also forwarded an email from an Emeritus Professor of Botany in Ireland, who stated that "[t]he picture in the report seems to show Nostoc colonies, something I have seen all over the Irish and British coasts and elsewhere."  The professor added that species of Nostoc do not have a sediment-accreting function, and are therefore not stromatolites.

In this regard, I am happy to correct my error and state that there is, at the very least, serious doubt about the true occurrence of stromatolites on the Giant's Causeway.  The link to the offending news article has been removed from the PalAss website.

Unequivocal stromatolite localities - such as the UNESCO World Heritage site in Shark Bay, Western Australia (pictured below) - are both rare and scientifically highly important.  I apologize if I have inadvertently helped to undermine this.

Stromatolites forming in Shark Bay, Western Australia.

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