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World Ocean's Day: 100 Marine Species Discovered in Philippines

Jun 08, 2015 04:16 PM EDT
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In the name of World Ocean's Day (June 8), scientists from the California Academy of Sciences are celebrating the discovery of more than 100 marine species in the Philippines.

These finds should really come as no surprise, given that the Philippines is home to the most biologically diverse waters on Earth. Among the new species are creatures such as colorful sea slugs, barnacles, and delicate heart urchins, all which will be studied in the coming months.

"The Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species - it's one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on Earth," Terry Gosliner, who led the research, said in a statement. "Despite this richness, the region's biodiversity has been relatively unknown. The species lists and distribution maps that we've created during our years surveying the country's land and sea will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this incredible biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival."

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, focused on the Verde Island Passage, located between the Philippine islands of Luzon and Mindoro. While this narrow passage has long been known as a treasure trove of marine life, this latest study allowed researchers to explore lesser-known field sites at its southern end.

(Photo : Pixabay)

The California Academy of Sciences team dove 150 to 500 feet beneath the ocean's surface - a region referred to as the "twilight zone." It was here that they discovered various rare and interesting marine species never before seen by human eyes.

For example, this includes 40 new varieties of nudibranchs - vibrant sea slugs made famous by their poisonous adaptations and importance to biomedical research.

"It's thrilling to return to such an incredibly diverse region year after year," Gosliner noted. "Whether we're finding new species or adding to our understanding of previously known creatures and habitats, these expeditions help us pinpoint how and where to focus protection efforts."

In addition, another important find was that of a new heart urchin, which is what scientists call a "living fossil." Meaning, this pink-and-white creature has a long-lost relative of the Prenaster genus - a fossil species that roamed the seafloor roughly 50 million years ago.

"It's critical we fill the gaps in knowledge about the life that thrives in the Philippines - you never know when you're going to discover a living fossil among the corals. We want to work with folks in the Philippines and global scientific community to help sustain these unique environments for generations to come," said Rich Mooi, one of the researchers.

Other new species hailed by researchers are 15 species of fishes as well as strange, multi-colored ctenophores, or "comb jellies" collected from a depth of 280 feet.

Before now, these and other marine life had gone unnoticed because diving to such depths, and staying down there for long periods of time, is difficult.

"More humans have visited the moon than have dived to the twilight zone," said Steinhart Aquarium Director Bart Shepherd.

Hopefully, with new technologies scientists can better explore this narrow treasure trove and help protect the unique species that call it home.

Expedition discoveries will be confirmed and described in the coming months as Academy scientists use DNA sequencing and other tools to analyze all specimens collected in the field, likely discovering even more new species in the process.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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