HONOLULU – Researchers have discovered what they believe is a new deep-water coral and sponge beds found several thousands of feet below the ocean surface, officials said Monday.
The lemon-yellow bamboo coral tree and giant sponge were discovered last month in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument by the Pisces V submersible operated by the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL).
Samples of the corals and sponges were collected for taxonomic identification and DNA analysis. They were found in depth from 3,000 to 6,000 feet.
Christopher Kelley, the principal investigator of the project, said the monument is potentially protecting so many new species and new records of species that many will not be revealed for decades to come.
The vast national monument, nearly 100 times larger than Yosemite National Park, was created by President Bush last year out of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which stretch out 1,000 miles from the main Hawaiian Islands.
"Most of the monument is below scuba diving depths," said Randy Kosaki, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research coordinator for the monument. "It's important to find ways to explore these deep water ecosystems where the inhabitants are virtually unknown."
Researchers returned from their 22-day expedition on Nov. 19.
HURL was established by NOAA and the University of Hawaii to study deep water marine processes in the Pacific Ocean.