Hundreds of New Reef Creatures Found in Australia

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There was previously no record for isopods at Ningaloo Reef, Caley said. Yet the team found representatives of two groups that have never been recorded before on coral reefs anywhere.

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, Caley said.

"People have been swimming past these big, showy animals for years," he added.

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, Caley said.

"Astonishing Richness"

Other finds include a potentially new class of marine worm known as bristle worms, relatives of leeches and earthworms.

The team is also analyzing organisms such as seaweeds, urchins, and lace corals.

"Amazingly colorful corals and fishes on reefs have long dazzled divers, but our eyes are just opening to the astonishing richness of other life forms in these habitats," Census of Marine Life chief scientist Ron O'Dor said in a statement.

"Hundreds of thousands of forms of life remain to be discovered," O'Dor said.

"Knowledge of this ocean diversity matters on many levels, including possibly human health. One of these creatures may have properties of enormous value to humanity."

The Unexplored

Coral expert James Crabbe, professor of biochemistry at the University of Bedford in the U.K., said he's excited by the latest discoveries but not surprised.

"There's so much that we just don't know is there," he said.

Corals depend on a symbiotic relationship with temperature-sensitive algae that live inside their tissues and provide both food and color.

While the impact of ocean warming on stony corals is well known, soft corals are also vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Crabbe said.

Given the threats, it's crucial that scientists now determine which species inhabit coral reefs, according to Crabbe.

"Otherwise we just don't know what we could be losing, whether due to climate change, pollution, or other environmental changes."

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