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More than 100 New Marine Species Recently Discovered in the Philippines

More than 100 New Marine Species Recently Discovered in the Philippines

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An article published by the California Academy of Sciences said scientists from the academy started their multi-year exploration of the Coral Triangle’s biological treasures, with the Philippines as one of its focus areas.

A flamboyant new Philippine nudibranch from the genus Halgerda. (Photo courtesy of: California Academy of Sciences)

A flamboyant new Philippine nudibranch from the genus Halgerda.
(Photo courtesy of: California Academy of Sciences)

Shallow waters can be easily explored by divers and the deep sea is now starting to be scanned by robotic submersibles. But there’s an in between part of the ocean where its too dark for divers to see and too shallow for bots to bother with.

The area 150 to 500 feet deep is called the Twilight Zone, at the California Academy of Sciences. And recent expedition to those mysterious waters just off the coast of the Philippines revealed more than 100 new species, reports Grace Singer for KQED Science.

“More people have walked on the surface of the moon, than have visited the Twilight Zone,” Steven Bedard of Cal Academy told Singer. In this case, skilled divers used special equipment that recycles their breath by filtering out unused oxygen from the carbon dioxide in their exhalations to make the visit. The team also used decompression chambers to help marine life survive the transition from the depths to the surface.

This recent dive was part of an exploration of The Coral Triangle, a marine area in waters near Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines and stretching to Papua New Guinea. It’s known to nurture important and diverse marine animal populations including tuna and six of the seven marine turtles in the world.

Over the course of the Academy’s seven-week undertaking, funded by the National Science Foundation, scientists collected countless marine specimens, including rare and new species of colorful sea slugs, barnacles, and delicate heart urchins, among others, to be studied in the coming months.

The scientists also collected mysterious live animals from dimly-lit, deep-water reefs for a new exhibit at the Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium, which is expected to open by 2016.

“The Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species—it’s one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on Earth,” said Terry Gosliner, PhD, Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the California Academy of Sciences and a Principal Investigator of the expedition.

One new kind of heart urchin had been discovered in 2014, but only as a skeleton. During this recent dive, the researchers found a living version adorned with pinkish-white spines. Also newly identified is a hot pink and orange sea slug (also called a nudibranch), an invertebrate called a tunicate sporting dark purple vein-like patterns and vibrant blue sea squirts.

The dive actually helped researchers discover more than 40 new varieties of nudibranch, particularly in one site near the Philippine harbor of Puerto Galera, a press release from the academy by Haley Bowling explains.

“This remarkable stretch of coral rubble was carpeted in colorful nudibranchs,” says one of the principle researchers on the expedition, Terry Gosliner. “It was like an underwater Easter egg hunt. It was one of the most exciting scientific dives of my 50-year career.”

Some of those creatures will be on view at an exhibition scheduled to open next year at the Academy.

(Story courtesy of California Academy of Sciences and Smithonian.com.)

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