Over three hundred species of soft corals have been recorded by scientists studying the species diversity of coral reefs at various locations off Australia's coasts. As many as half of the soft corals found by the researchers are believed to be species not previously known to science. The research was conducted as part of the Census of Coral Reef Ecosystems (or CReefs) program, a global research project aimed at collecting species diversity data for coral reefs around the world.
The scientific team made three expeditions to different coral reefs in the coastal waters of Australia. The first expedition in April 2008, explored the reefs around Lizard Island. Lizard Island is a granite island located in the the Great Barrier Reef, in the waters north east of Cairnes, Australia. The second expedition in June 2008, also explored the Great Barrier Reef, this time in the region of Heron Island, an island south of Lizard Island and located in the waters between Cairnes and Brisbane. The third expedition in late August and early September 2008, explored an isolated reef off of Australia's remote west coast, Ningaloo Reef, located about 1200 kilometers north of Perth.
In addition to the many soft corals the scientists logged during the three expeditions, there were other significant discoveries. The researchers found dozens of crustacean species, including some tanaid crustaceans, a group of odd shrimp-like animals that have claws that are longer than the rest of their body. There were also numerous sightings of amphipod crustaceans, many of which were new to science. A very rare amphipod crustacean was also recorded. The crustacean belongs to the Maxillipiidae family and only a few species in this family have been recorded worldwide.
The scientists also observed the rare Cassiopea jellyfish and its unique behavior. The jellyfish was photographed resting upside-down on the ocean floor with its tentacles floating above it soaking in sunlight and enabling the algae that lives in its tentacles to capture sunlight for photosynthesis.
Find out more:
- Explorers Find Hundreds of Undescribed Corals, Other Species on Familiar Australian Reefs (Census of Marine Life)
- Census of Coral Reef Ecosystems (CReefs)