COURTESY NWHI MARINE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Acetabularia sp. parvula, a one-celled algae, was found at French Frigate Shoals.
Hawaii atoll trip IDs 100 new species
The survey of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands targeted invertebrates
Researchers have discovered what appear to be more than 100 new species of marine animals on a three-week voyage to French Frigate Shoals, officials said yesterday.
Crabs, corals, sea cucumbers, sea squirts, worms, sea stars, snails and clams were among the unusual-looking samples collected by researchers aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Oscar Elton Sette from this part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument.
Among the finds of the voyage that returned to Honolulu on Sunday were a photogenic hermit crab that wears a sea anemone around its neck like a medallion and has shiny golden claws.
And tiny segmented worms that don't look like much to the naked eye, but under a microscope show colors and shapes of stunning variety.
Unlike previous research, which focused on "the big stuff" like sharks, fish, sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals, this trip targeted no-backbone creatures just a few inches in size or smaller.
The international crew of experts will compile their research as part of the Census of Marine Life, a worldwide project to document the biological diversity of various parts of the world's oceans.
The work of classifying plants and animals is a "detective job," said voyage participant Joel Martin, invertebrate studies chief of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
COURTESY NWHI MARINE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Divers tend to artificial reef matrix structures, small boxes made of PVC designed to mimic an environment where invertebrates such as crabs and mollusks can enter and inhabit.
And while the group was finding handfuls of apparent new species daily, some surprises were what it didn't find, said principal investigator Rusty Brainard, chief of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division of NOAA's Pacific Islands Fishery Science Center.
For example, Christmas tree worms and porcelain crabs, both common residents of coral reefs in the Main Hawaiian Islands and many other places in the world, weren't seen at all, Brainard said.
Though the scientists worked 16- and 18-hour days, the trip was energizing rather than exhausting because of the discoveries being made, Brainard said.
Brainard said mornings were spent in the water collecting specimens by a variety of methods, including: brushing coral rubble rocks to loosen tiny creatures and nabbing them under water in a butterfly net; using a gentle vacuum to pull hiding creatures out of cracks; sifting through sand on the ocean floor; pulling up baited traps left on the bottom overnight; attracting night-active animals with lights; or just sampling the water.
In the afternoon, the scientists would photograph still-living animals, sort them by type and preserve them for later study as specimens, he said.
Brazilian sea squirt expert Tito Lotufo, of the Institute of Marine Science at the Federal University of Ceara, said he wouldn't be surprised if he identifies 58 species of the animals at French Frigate Shoals -- more than have been identified in all the Main Hawaiian Islands to date.
The number of samples and sampling methods had been authorized by the three co-managers of the newly created monument: NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The sum of samples taken -- as packed in vials and jars of preserving agents -- would easily fit in the back of a pickup truck bed, said Scott Godwin, an invertebrate specialist with the University of Hawaii's Institute for Marine Biology.
Because Kahea (the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance) and Environmental Defense protested the scope of the sampling before the voyage took off, Brainard said he was paying particular attention to the effects of the scientists' work.
As he looked at an underwater spot that had just been sampled, he couldn't detect anything had been disturbed, Brainard said.
"You can never say you have no impact, but I think it was essentially a non-measurable impact," he said. "I don't think we left much of a footprint."
All the samples collected are the public property of the people of Hawaii and cannot be used for bio-prospecting, sale, bioassay, patent, obtaining patents or intellectual property rights, the government agencies required.
"This is a trip I've been waiting to take for four years," Godwin said. "A lot of us are interested in saving coral reefs and determining what makes them tick."
To do that, he said, you've first got to know what's living there.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
» Private and government researchers found new species of marine animals at French Frigate Shoals. A Page A1 story yesterday incorrectly said they were all federal researchers.