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You are here: /main/research expeditions/CReefs 2006/journals/Day 8

Day 8
October 15, 2006
By Andy Collins, NOAA, NOS, NWHIMNM -
Education and Outreach Specialist

Collection by suction. Photo: Jim Maragos/USFWS
Collection by suction. Photo: Jim Maragos/USFWS

After a week of operations we have gotten into a groove and both the collections and the processing of specimens has settled into a regular schedule. To date we have found several species that the scientists think are new, or undescribed, and many that are new records for French Frigate Shoals. All of these discoveries come with the caveat that confirming new species or even new records may not be possible until after our return (see New Species article for an explanation of this process) but with the experts we have aboard, such as Jim Maragos and Gustav Paulay we can be fairly confident about certain species. When species lists for Hawaii show that five species of a certain genus are known from Hawaii, and we have collected seven, then we can at least be relatively certain we collected new records for Hawaii. This is the case for the anemone hermit crabs in the genus Dardanus, in which there are six confirmed species from Hawaii with 3 questionable species. We have collected 10 species, 5 of which we have confirmed identity, and 5 are of unknown identity.

Possible new species of coral. Photo: Jim Maragos/USFWS
Possible new species of coral.
Photo: Jim Maragos/USFWS
Jim Maragos, a coral expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, believes he has found a new species of coral at French Frigate Shoals, and two others that he thinks may be new records. The new species is an Acroporacoral, one of the most common types of coral in the Pacific but rare in Hawaii. If this is indeed a new species it may suggest that Acropora corals have evolved over a longer time period in Hawaii than what is currently thought, since there are no other Acropora like it elsewhere in the Pacific. The two new records are Leptoseris papyracea, and Diaseris distorta. Leptoseris papyracea has been previously reported from Maui but Jim has never seen it alive. Although Jim has been doing coral reef surveys in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands since 1999 this is the first year that he has been doing intensive exploratory surveys such as those he is conducting as part of the Census of Marine Life, Census of Coral Reefs.

Nearly all the experts on this expedition have been finding new organisms, or at least ones they cannot readily identify. The algae team, composed of Rebecca Most and Kris Coontz think they may have found a new species of red algae. Tito Monteiro da Cruz Lotufo, our resident expert on the animal group Ascidians, or sea squirts, believes he may have found a new species of sea squirt. There is a continuous buzz of excitement among the scientists as the samples are being processed, and discoveries made. For some organisms, such as the microbes, we have no idea what we collected and will need to wait until we return since we have no way to process these microscopic life forms on the ship. One thing is certainly becoming clearer, that coral reefs are extremely intricate environments and what we typically see on the surface of the reef only represents a small fraction of the diversity of life that is present. As Gustav Paulay puts it, “the coral reef is like a giant sponge, and we only see the outside of the sponge, yet 80% or more of the life is hidden from view,” buried in the reef matrix itself, much of the life never coming to the surface at all. Collection methods such as rubble extraction, where samples of this hidden matrix are removed and studied, are bringing to the surface many organisms, such as an ancient animal called a brachiopod which was found today on one of these pieces of rubble.
Brachiopod collected during rubble extraction.
Brachiopod collected during rubble extraction.
These living fossils used to be one of the dominant marine life forms on reefs approximately 550 to 250 million years ago but were displaced following one of the mass extinctions and have been replaced by other organisms. These organisms exist in only a few environments today and finding them buried in the reef matrix is like stepping back in time.

Collector crab with sponge.
Collector crab with sponge.
Not only are the scientists discovering life forms embedded in the reef itself, but they are finding them on other organisms. The collector crabs we are bringing up from the depths in our deep set epifauna traps have a pair of legs specially adapted to hold pieces of sponge, or in some cases precious coral. Leslie Harris, an expert on polycheates (worms), started looking at some of the sponges that were coming up with the crabs and she found several species of polycheates living in them. In this case we have a crab that carries around a sponge, likely for camouflage, or at least to not appear so tasty to predators, and within the sponge live species of worms. From what appears to be one organism – a crab with something on its head - we discover several. We are finding the same thing with the anemone hermit crabs. On one anemone crab we found an anemone, an unknown barnacle, and worm casings. With one animal we recorded several species, including the species of marine snail that originally occupied the hermit crab’s shell. This apparent infinite complexity in the coral reef environment is nothing new to these experts who have made studying similar areas and organisms their life work, but what is new to is that Hawaii has had a unique evolutionary history due to its isolation, and a high percentage of the relationships among organisms, as well as many of the organisms themselves are found nowhere else in the world.


*All images and information from French Frigate Shoals are provided courtesy of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands State Marine Refuge, and NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in accordance with permit numbers NWHIMNM-2006-015, 2006-01, 2006-017, and DLNR.NWHI06R021 and associated amendments.

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