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Four New Algae Species Discovered At Unexpected Depths Off Hawaii's Coast

Feb 09, 2016 02:07 PM EST
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Four new species of marine algae have been found off the coast of Hawaii, according to a new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The new species were actually collected from unexpected depths, between 200 and 400 feet below the ocean's surface.

"I was astounded at the abundance and size of these algae, which resembled something you would see in a shallow-water lagoon, not at 400 feet," Heather Spalding, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii, said in a news release. "If you picked up one of these algae on the beach, you couldn't tell if it was from a nearby rock or washed up from the deep, the species look that similar."

Marine algae, or limu, are very important in Hawaiian culture, as they are used in foods, ceremonies and as adornments in traditional hula. While the newly discovered species look very similar to those from Hawaii's shallower waters – Ulva lactuca, or sea lettuce – DNA analyses confirm they are very different.

After consulting with the native Hawaiian community, researchers named the new species in honor of the great importance they have in Hawaiian culture. For instance, one of the species -- Ulva iliohaha - was named after the foraging behavior of ilioholoikauaua, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

"These findings redefine our understanding of algal distributions in Hawaii, and hint at the great number of other new species that are likely to be discovered in the future from these amazing deep-water reefs," Daniel Wagner, Papahanaumokuakea research specialist with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, added in the NOAA release.

Their study was recently published in the Journal of Phycology.

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