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Reef Report for Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hundreds of New Species Discovered on the Great Barrier Reef
A diverse ecosystem is really even more diverse.

A recent research expedition on the Great Barrier Reef by the Australian Institute of Marine Science has discovered hundreds of new species, and is pointing to the fact that the Great Barrier Reef is even more diverse than previously thought.

The results of the expedition even surprised the scientists. © Gary Cranitch The expedition was based on Lizard and Heron Islands, two long-studied areas, so the discoveries were unexpected. Whatís more, if two well-surveyed areas have this much undiscovered diversity, one can only expect a huge number of new species to be found at less accessible and less well explored reefs.

Discoveries at Lizard and Heron Islands (part of the Great Barrier Reef), included:

-About 150 soft coral species, thought to be new to science;

-Dozens of small crustacean species -- and potentially one or more families of species likewise thought unknown to science;

-A rarely sampled amphipod of the family Maxillipiidae, featuring a bizarre whip-like back leg about three times the size of its body. Only a few species are recorded worldwide;

-New species of tanaid crustaceans, shrimp-like animals, some with claws longer than their bodies;

-The beautiful, rare Cassiopeia jellyfish, photographed upside down on the ocean floor, tentacles waving in the water column -- a posture that enables symbiotic algae living in its tentacles to capture sunlight for photosynthesis;

-Scores of tiny amphipod crustaceans " insects of the marine world " of which an estimated 40 to 60% will be formally described for the first time.

The expeditions, affiliated with the global Census of Marine Life, help mark the International Year of the Reef and included the first systematic scientific inventory of soft corals. All new information will be added to the World Register of Marine Species

Expeditions to the same three sites will be repeated annually over the next three years to continue their inventory and measure impacts of climate change and other processes over time To take advantage of the repeat visits scientists pegged several layered plastic structures, likened to empty doll houses, for marine life to colonize on the ocean floor at Lizard and Heron Islands. Creatures that into these Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS), which provide shelter designed to appeal to a variety of sea life, will be collected on these return visits.

What continues to amaze us is that how much about the ocean we donít know and have yet to understand, and these recent expeditions are good examples of what a tremendous amount is not yet even discovered, much less understood. The ocean, and coral reef ecosystems in particular, are really only partially studied, and with all the concerns about the impact Global climate change may have on coral reefs is important that we learn as much as we can, and as fast as we can.

Summary, from Rueters.

Summary, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Census of Marine Life home page.

World Register of Marine Species

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

Index of all reef reports.

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