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New Marine Species Discovered in Papua New Guinea

Mar 01, 2013 02:09 AM EST

Researchers have discovered several new marine species at Madang Lagoon in Papua New Guinea, shedding light on the rich biodiversity that the lagoon offers.

A team of international researchers led by Jim Thomas from Nova Southeastern University has found new species of sea slugs (nudibranchs), feather stars (crinoids) and amphipods (genus Leucothoe) at Madang Lagoon, while carrying a survey in the area comparing the current biodiversity levels to levels recorded in a previous survey in the 1990s.

The research team was very surprised to find that the lagoon is home to a wide range of plant and animal life. The lagoon had more variety of these species than those found along the entire length of Australia's 1,600-mile Great Barrier Reef. "In the Madang Lagoon, we went a half mile out off the leading edge of the active Australian Plate and were in 6,000 meters of water," Thomas said in a statement.

"It was once believed there were no reefs on the north coast of Papua New Guinea since there were no shallow bays and lagoons typical of most coral reef environments. But there was lots of biodiversity to be found."

The research team will be sharing the findings with the local villagers, as well as regional and federal governments. The details of the findings will also appear in peer-reviewed journals.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the world's major coral reef nations. PNG's reef ecosystems are the richest on Earth; in particular, invertebrate species are found in abundance in this region. Madang Lagoon is the most ecologically diverse lagoon on PNG's north coast, with a wide range of habitat comprising coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass, according to a report by researchers from Yale Tropical Resources Institute.

Various factors including water pollution, population rise and new developments are threatening the lagoon's ecological diversity. The region is facing environmental threats by land-based pollution caused by a recently opened tuna cannery whose outfall is very close to the lagoon's reefs, said the researchers.

They hope their discoveries would encourage governing bodies to take better conservation efforts to protect Madang Lagoon.

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