Hundreds of new species discovered on Australian reefs

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Scientists have found hundreds of undescribed species in waters off Lizard and Heron Islands in the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef off northwestern Australia.

The results come after four years of effort to record the diversity of life in and around Australia s renowned reefs.

These expeditions are affiliated with the global Census of Marine Life and help mark the International Year of the Reef.

The results included the first systematic scientific inventory of octocorals (soft corals named for the eight tentacles that fringe each polyp).

The new discoveries include: 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; a rarely sampled amphipod of the family Maxillipiidae, featuring a bizarre whip-like back leg about three times the size of its body; new species of tanaid crustaceans (shrimp-like animals), some with claws longer than their bodies; the beautiful, rare Cassiopeia jellyfish, photographed upside down on the ocean floor; scores of tiny amphipod crustaceans, of which an estimated 40 to 60% will be formally described for the first time.

According to Julian Caley of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, e were all surprised and excited to find such a large variety of marine life never before described " most notably soft coral, isopods, tanaid crustaceans and worms " and in waters that divers access easily and regularly.

Compared to what we don t know, our knowledge of marine life is a proverbial drop in the ocean. Inventorying the vast diversity and abundance of life across all ocean realms challenges both science and the imagination.

The scientists have also been preparing for future discoveries by pegging several layered plastic structures for marine life to colonize on the ocean floor at Lizard and Heron Islands. Creatures that move into these Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) will be collected over the next one to three years.