Scientists discover 100 new ocean species in New Zealand

Scientists on an expedition to the Bounty Trough off New Zealand have discovered about 100 new or potentially new ocean species.

The Ocean Census team combined of scientists from NIWA, Te Papa and experts from the UK and Australia collected almost 1800 samples from as deep as 4800m underwater along the 800km-long Bounty Trough.

Ocean Census science director Professor Alex Rogers, who co-led the expedition, said he was impressed with the sheer biodiversity of life they had discovered.

"It looks like we have a great haul of new, undiscovered species. By the time all our specimens are examined, we will be north of 100 new species.

"But what's really surprised me here is the fact this extends to animals like fish - we think we've got three new species of fish."

Voyage co-leader NIWA marine biologist Sadie Mills said the expedition has shown the Bounty Trough was flourishing with life.

"We've gone to lots of different habitats and discovered a whole range of new species, from fish to snails, to corals and sea cucumbers - really interesting species that are going to be new to science.

"Ocean Census has enabled us to explore an area of Aotearoa's deep seafloor that we previously knew little about in terms of the animals that live there."

Researchers on board NIWA's research vessel Tangaroa.
Researchers on board NIWA's research vessel Tangaroa. Photo credit: NIWA / Ocean Census / Rebekah Pars

A global team of scientists was working to confirm the finds at taxonomic workshops at NIWA and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Over the next three weeks they would be sorting and describing the specimens collected, so they could be added to the picture of Aotearoa New Zealand's marine biodiversity.

New species identified so far include dozens of molluscs, three fish, a shrimp, a cephalopod and a new genera of coral.

One find was baffling the experts.

Queensland Museum Network Taxonomist Dr Michela Mitchell said the voyage team initially thought it might be a seastar, a sea-anemone or zoanthid-like creature, but it has so far proven to be none of those.

"We've got a lot of experts here, having a look, who are very excited. We now think it could be a new species of octocoral, but also a new genus [wider grouping of species].

"Even more excitingly, it could be a whole new group outside of the octocoral. If it is, that is a significant find for the deep sea and gives us a much clearer picture of the planet's unique biodiversity," she said.

Te Papa curator fishes Andrew Stewart said it was a privilege to collaborate with NIWA and Ocean Census.

"While our findings are significant, we know that we've barely scratched the surface of the Bounty Trough - there's a whole other world of fauna still waiting to be discovered."

The specimens collected will be housed in the NIWA Invertebrate Collection and National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in their Mollusca and Fish Collections.

The knowledge gained from the expedition will be included in future editions of the New Zealand Marine Biota NIWA Biodiversity Memoir, currently comprised on nearly 18,500 known living species. (18,494)

The three-week voyage on NIWA's research vessel Tangaroa was the first flagship Southern Hemisphere expedition for Ocean Census, a global alliance founded by The Nippon Foundation and UK ocean exploration foundation Nekton.