New Plant, Animal Species Found in Western Hawaiian Islands

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Researchers on a three-week mission to the remote French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands discovered 100 species never seen in the area before, including many that may be entirely new to science.

"There were lots of organisms that people were saying, 'Wow! What's that?'" said Joel Martin, a zoologist for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Researchers returned from the voyage Sunday with at least 1,000 species of invertebrates, including worms, crabs and sea stars. About 160 unique species of seaweed were also found.

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Among the discoveries are multicolored worms; a bright purple, foot-long sea star; and a hermit crab that dons a sea anemone and sports shiny golden claws.

More species may still be found in the water and sand samples that will be studied at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Additional studies will determine how well the area's ecosystem is being managed and what threats it faces.

"It was a very successful expedition by almost any criterion, and the discovery has really only just begun," Martin said.

The project is part of the Census of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the International Census of Marine Life.