abundance of sponges

Rachel Przeslawski, GA and Andrzej Pisera, Poland. Image: Christine Schöenberg.

An international workshop convened by Dr Christine Schöenberg of AIMS, brought sponge taxonomists together in Perth to identify marine sponges collected from Ningaloo Reef. The researchers confirmed that the deeper marine habitats of Western Australia contain unexpectedly high biodiversity of these primitive and ancient animals.

More than 1,000 sponge samples were obtained from a joint voyage to Ningaloo Reef in 2008 by scientists from AIMS and Geoscience Australia. This voyage of discovery was funded by the Marine Biodiversity Hub of the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF) initiative that supports public-good environmental research throughout Australia.

The samples complement more than 600 invertebrate species that have been collected from deep waters of Ningaloo Reef through previous expeditions to the area by AIMS with support from the Western Australia Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) and the Western Australian Museum.

The workshop also included sponge taxonomists from museums and marine institutes in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The new collections of sponges were gathered from the sea floor in waters between 20 and 120 metres deep and were accompanied by a rich profusion of other floor-dwelling marine life including corals, sea whips, sea fans and basket stars.