New Species Found at Great Barrier Reef

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May 21, 2009—In and around Australia's Great Barrier Reef, researchers with the Census of Marine Life have discovered hundreds of new species.

Video by Public Television's Wild Chronicles, from National Geographic Mission Programs

Unedited Transcript

ITS A WHOLE WIDE WORLD UNDER HERE

WITH SOME PRIME REAL ESTATE

AND COLORFUL CHARACTERS. THIS IS AUSTRALIA'S GREAT BARRIER REEF.

THE LARGEST REEF IN THE WORLD AND IT CONCEALS MANY SECRETS.

WHICH MAKES IT A PERFECT SPOT FOR THE CENSUS OF MARINE LIFE AN AMBITIOUS DECADE-LONG PROJECT TO DISCOVER EVERYTHING THAT LIVES IN THE OCEANS

FROM LARGE TO MICROSCOPIC.

PROJECT LEADER JULIAN CALEY SAYS RESEARCHERS NEED TO FILL IN THE BLANKS.

"So we know quite a lot about the corals and fishes, they're quite obvious, people have been working on them for many years, but what we don't know is a lot about the other things that live in amongst the coral."

"Excuse me boys. Are we ready to go? We have some serious diving today."

DURING THE CENSUS DIVERS COMB THE CORAL REEFS OFF HERON ISLAND COLLECTING SAMPLES.

SOME OF THE LARGER ANIMALS ARE COLLECTED IN TRAPS AND BAGS.

BUT TO FIND THE SMALLEST INHABITANTS, THE DIVERS MUST CHISEL CHUNKS OF DEAD CORAL OFF THE OCEAN BED, AND TAKE THEM BACK TO THE LAB FOR IDENTIFICATION.

AND THE MARINE INVESTIGATION IS TAKING PLACE JUST IN TIME.

"Reefs as we know are under threat. They're under threat because of climate change, ocean specification, various forms of abuse. And if we have any chance of managing those reefs effectively we need to know whats there in order to be able to understand how those reefs are changing and whether or not were losing the biodiversity that resides on them and whether the management were putting in place is effective."

ALREADY THERE ARE SECTIONS OF CORAL BED OFF HERON ISLAND THAT ARE DEAD OR DYING.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PROTECTING THE REEF RESEARCHERS ALSO FASTEN BOXES TO THE OCEAN FLOOR.

THEY'RE CALLED AUTONOMOUS REEF MONITORING SYSTEMS OR ARMS FOR SHORT.

CREATURES WILL TREAT THEM LIKE CORAL AND MOVE RIGHT IN.

THEN IN A YEAR OR SO SCIENTISTS WILL COMEBACK TO COLLECT THE BOXES AND STUDY WHATS TAKEN UP RESIDENCE. BACK AT THE HERON ISLAND LAB RESEARCHERS BREAK OPEN THE CORALS TO FIND OUT WHATS LIVING INSIDE.

A SINGLE DEAD CORAL HEAD CAN CONTAIN MORE THAN 150 INDIVIDUAL CRUSTACEANS AND MANY SPECIES OF WORMS AND MICRO-ORGANISMS.

INSIDE THE LAB THESE SMALLEST CREATURES GO UNDER THE MICROSCOPE.

"So what Ive been doing is mostly collecting coral rubble and this is our little processing station where we break up the rubble and pick out the worms that we can find so there's one there into alcohol and ready to be identified under the microscope."

AUSTRALIA IS ONE OF MORE THAN 80 COUNTRIES PARTICIPATING IN THE AMBITIOUS CENSUS OF MARINE LIFE.

THE DECADE-LONG PROJECT WILL END SOON BUT THE RESULTS ARE ALREADY STARTING TO COME IN

WHAT THEY DISCOVERED SURPRISED EVEN THE SCIENTISTS.

THEY DIDN'T STUMBLE ON A COUPLE OF NEW SPECIES OR EVEN DOZENS AS WAS EXPECTED.

INSTEAD THEY DISCOVERED LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF CREATURES THAT HAD NEVER BEFORE BEEN IDENTIFIED.

"Were coming up with many, many species no one has ever seen before. In some places we goa particular group has never been collected there and there was one group where we think there was in excess of 90 percent of the species we were collecting have never been seen before."

THE DISCOVERY OF SO MANY NEW SPECIES SUGGESTS THERE'S MUCH ABOUT CORAL REEFS THAT WE DONT KNOW

AND REMINDS US THAT WE NEED TO PROTECT FRAGILE HABITATS OR SOME SPECIES MAY NOT BE AROUND FOR THE NEXT GREAT CENSUS.

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