Reef Madness

Survey finds new marine species

Big Red
This soft coral has branches of up to an inch long [shown here]. The animal, six inches tall and four inches wide, now lives in an aquarium at the Queensland Museum.Gary Cranitch

Last spring, scientists from the Queensland Museum in South Brisbane, Australia, discovered this new coral species hanging underneath a rocky ledge about 50 feet deep off the northern end of Australia's Lizard Island. They now hope to classify the coral, along with hundreds of other recently discovered marine invertebrates.

During the trip, which helped mark 2008 as the International Year of the Reef, researchers explored the reefs around Lizard Island at a range of depths to find species from a variety of habitats. During the next several years, these three-week expeditions to other regions of the Great Barrier Reef will continue to provide a baseline species inventory of the region. The inventory should help scientists understand how changing ocean conditions adversely affect reef biodiversity and, by extension, 30 million of the world's poorest people who rely entirely on reefs for food.