Previously unknown shrimps, worms, scavenging crustaceans, and spectacularly colored soft corals were identified at the tropical sites during a study led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). Part of the Census of Marine Life, a ten-year initiative to assess global ocean diversity, the expeditions involved systematic sampling of lesser known coral reef animals at Lizard and Heron islands on the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef on Australia’s west coast. The four-year survey recorded about 300 kinds of soft corals, as many as half of which could be new to science. Soft corals lack the hard skeletons of reef-building corals. A similar proportion of tiny amphipod crustaceans—a group that includes freshwater shrimp—are also set to be described for the first time, the research team said. In addition, the team found scores of new varieties of shrimps known as tanaids, some armed with claws longer than their bodies. Tanaids resemble typical marine shrimps, although they are much smaller, said Julian Caley, principal research scientist at AIMS and co-leader of the global Census of Coral Reefs (CReefs) project. “A lot of them are so small they basically live between sand grains.”
Other types of newly sampled crustaceans surveyed at the three sites include varieties of pill bug-like isopods called the vultures of the sea, because they scavenge dead fish on the seabed. In total, about a hundred new isopod species could emerge from the study. “Not only are we picking up new species, we’re really massively extending the ranges of some of these organisms,” Caley said. Soft corals were among the biggest, most colorful creatures the team surveyed. Many such corals were previously unrecorded, despite the fact that divers regularly visit the three reef sites. People have been swimming past these big, showy animals for years. Soft corals are more diverse than stony corals and play a key role in reef ecosystems, providing a habitat for other animals to live in. See more photos here.