Sponge Blog Square Pants

Our blogs over the last couple of weeks have highlighted some of the weird and wonderful fish that have been seen during our surveys. For some of these species, this is the first time ever that they have been recorded at the Kermadec Islands. Very exciting!! What we haven’t really blogged about is the efforts that have been going in to discovering and documenting some of the small and spineless residents of the reef. The invertebrates! This includes the algae, corals, crabs, shrimps, molluscs, urchins, starfish and sponges.

Kina Scollay using the team’s close-up rig.

Kina Scollay using the team’s close-up rig.

Sam and Phil have been on a mission to learn more about sponge biodiversity at the Kermadec Islands. Prior to this expedition there were only nine species of sponges recorded at Raoul Island and eleven species for the entire Kermadec group in waters less than 50 m deep. After the first few days it appeared that there might not be too many more to be discovered. But … as Sam and Phil became accustomed to looking at the various critters that live on the reef, they started to consistently pick up new sponge species hiding away in the reef’s many nooks and crannies. So far they have collected at least nineteen different species. This will at least double the number of sponge species recorded at Raoul Island.

It is possible that some of these sponges will be new species that are endemic to the Kermadec Islands. Others may have arrived from New Zealand or from the South Pacific Islands to the north. This won’t be confirmed until the sponge collections are returned to the laboratory and properly examined under the microscope and with DNA barcoding.

A selection of the sponge biodiversity of the Kermadec Islands.

A selection of the sponge biodiversity of the Kermadec Islands.

The Natural History New Zealand team have also been focusing on some of the smaller residents of the Kermadec reef systems. Of particular interest are the tropical hard corals and their arch enemy, the crown of thorns sea star. The massive spiny sea star inches over the coral, devouring its minute polyps.

But to capture such drama unfold the crew need some serious tech. With bright lights, 4K camera, and a massive monitor screen the team can capture insanely sharp and close-up images of the reef’s tiny critters. Shooting macro is one of the team’s biggest challenges, especially when filming in the pounding swell that’s rolled through in the past few days. But with a bit of patience, the result is worth the effort.

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