September 19, 2008

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By Kristen Gelineau | The Associated Press

Marine scientists have discovered hundreds of new animal species on reefs in Australian waters, including brilliant soft corals and tiny crustaceans, according to findings released Thursday. // The creatures were found during expeditions run by the Australian chapter of CReefs, a global census of coral reefs that is one of several projects of the Census of Marine Life, an international effort to catalog all life in the oceans.

"People have been working at these places for a long time and still there are literally hundreds and hundreds of new species that no one has ever collected or described," said Julian Caley, a scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science who is helping to lead the research.

Among the creatures researchers found were about 130 soft corals - also known as octocorals, for the eight tentacles that fringe each polyp - that have never been described in scientific literature. They also found scores of similarly undescribed crustaceans, including tiny shrimplike animals with claws longer than their bodies.

The 10-year census, set for final publication in 2010, is supported by governments, divisions of the United Nations and private conservation organizations.

The Australian researchers ran three expeditions, one each in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef's Lizard and Heron islands, and one in the Ningaloo Reef, on Australia's northwest coast. Researchers plan to explore the three sites annually for six years.

Researchers also pegged 36 plastic houselike structures to the ocean floor in various locations around the three sites. Animals are likely to be attracted to the structures and make them their home. Researchers will go back and study the life inside each house over the next few years. Such structures will also be placed in reefs in other parts of the world, providing a standardized method for studying marine life internationally, Caley said.

white topped coral crab

This particular new crab was collected from dead coral head off Australia's Heron Island. sabellids (fan worms)

These sabellids were found in the waters off Heron Island, Australia. Marine scientists have discovered hundreds of new animal species on reefs in Australian waters. dendronepthya (soft coral)

This dendronepthya soft coral was discovered in the coral gardens on Australia's Lizard Island Reef. green banded snapping shrimp

The green banded snapping shrimp, Alpheus parvirostris, was taken from dead coral head off Heron Island, Australia.


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