Researchers discover hundreds of species off Great Barrier Reef

September 22nd, 2008 - 10:18 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Sep 22 (IANS) Researchers exploring waters off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have discovered hundreds of new marine species, besides stumbling on a wealth of insights about ocean life. The find includes about 300 soft coral species, up to half of them thought to be new to science, dozens of small crustacean species - and potentially one or more families - likewise thought unknown to science.

They also found a rarely sampled amphipod called Maxillipiidae (an order of shrimps), which include sand hoppers and water lice, featuring a bizarre whip-like back leg about three times the size of its body. Only a few species are recorded worldwide.

Census of Marine Life-affiliated scientists Monday released the first results of a landmark four-year exploration effort, led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), amid rising concern sparked by the impact of multiple threats to coral habitats, reports Sciencealert.

Researchers, working at Lizard and Heron Islands, part of the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef deployed new methods, designed to help standardise measurement of the health, diversity and biological makeup of coral reefs worldwide.

“Corals face threats ranging from ocean acidification, pollution and warming to overfishing and starfish outbreaks,” said Ian Poiner, AIMS chief executive officer.

“Only by establishing a baseline of biodiversity and following through with later censuses can people know the impact of those threats and find clues to mitigate them,” he said.

Julian Caley, principal research scientist at AIMS and co-leader of CoML’s CReefs project, said the three coral reef sites being studied were selected because they were thought to offer the greatest possible range of biodiversity.

“We were all surprised and excited to find such a large variety of marine life never before described. It reveals the enormous challenge faced by scientists trying to create an inventory of the vast diversity and abundance of life across all ocean realms,” he said.

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