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Hawaiian Islands Home To New And Unique Species, Study Shows

Oct 02, 2015 01:54 PM EDT
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The Northwestern Hawaii Islands are home to a wide variety of unique species, according to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) exploration of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM). Among the marine life found were some species never before seen in the area.  

"On some of the deep reefs we surveyed, 100 percent of the fishes we recorded were endemic, meaning they are all unique to the Hawaiian archipelago," Randall Kosaki, NOAA's deputy superintendent of PMNM and chief scientist of the expedition, said in a statement. "This is the highest level of endemism recorded from any marine ecosystem on Earth."

The team of researchers used advanced diving technology to survey reefs at depths up to 300 feet. This is much deeper than conventional scuba gear allows, so the researchers were able to observe rarely seen ecosystems, according to a news release.  

Diving to these depths revealed many new species of fish, algae and invertebrates, including a new species of seahorse and a sea star not previously found in Hawaii. The samples and photographs taken of the species are being sent to experts at various museums around the world to confirm their identity.

"Discoveries of rare and unique species of marine life remind us why Papahanaumokuakea is so special and why we need to continue exploring, managing and protecting it," Athline Clark, NOAA superintendent of PMNM, added. "We are delighted to have so many partners who help us to achieve these significant research findings."

The team was actually the first to dive on several open-ocean seamounts in the monument, which were first mapped in 2014 and 2015 using high-resolution multibeam sonar. These undersea mountains rise from the floor of the ocean in 14,000 feet of water and summit within 200 to 300 feet of the surface.

PNMN provides long-term protection of ecosystems throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This study sheds light on the diverse species found in this area and with help conservationists better protect the natural ecosystems in the future. 

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

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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