New worm-snail species discovered on Florida shipwreck


This 2015 video from the USA is called Florida Keys Snorkeling (Key West vs Key Largo).

From the Field Museum in Chicago, USA:

‘Spiderman’ worm-snails discovered on Florida shipwreck

New species could have major implications for coral reef restoration

April 5, 2017

Summary: Scientists have discovered a new species of worm-snail on a shipwreck in the Florida Keys. The new species, which is colorful and shoots mucus webs to trap food, is likely an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific and could have important coral reef conservation implications.

What’s brightly colored, lives on shipwrecks, filter-feeds like a whale, and shoots webs like Spiderman? If you can’t readily come up with an answer, that’s okay: until now, such animals weren’t known to science. But as of today, scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of snail that ticks all those boxes. According to its discoverer, the snail shows “amazing adaptations and are kind of cute,” and it could play an important role in coral reef restoration work.

“These worm-snails are particularly weird animals,” says Dr. Rüdiger Bieler, Curator of Invertebrates at Chicago’s Field Museum and the lead author of a paper in the journal PeerJ describing the new snails. “And while we find lots of unusual snails, this one could have a substantial impact on coral reef restoration efforts.”

Instead of having coiled shells like most snails, worm-snails have irregularly-shaped tubular shells that they cement onto a hard surface. And while most snails are slow movers, adult worm-snails don’t move at all — instead, they stick to one spot for the rest of their lives. That makes them good candidates to live on hard surfaces like ships and coral reefs. The new species, Thylacodes vandyensis, is named for the “Vandy,” the nickname the SCUBA diving community has given to the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenburg, a retired naval vessel intentionally sunk to serve as an artificial reef in the lower Florida Keys. This ship is the only place the new worm-snails have ever been found, glued to the vessel’s hull.

“I first got interested in these guys when I saw their giant slime glands,” says Bieler. “Normally, snails produce a trail of slime so that they can glide on it in order to move. But worm-snails are stationary — what did they need slime glands for?”

It turns out, these snails don’t use their slime to move — they use it to hunt.

“The snails have an extra pair of tentacles down near the base of their body, almost like little arms. These tentacles are what they use to shoot slime,” explains Bieler. “They shoot out a mucous web, just like Spiderman — although in slow motion. Then, microorganisms get stuck in the web, and the snails use their mouths to pull the web back in and strain the food through barbs on their tongues called radulae in order to eat. They filter-feed, much like baleen whales.”

While the worm-snails are immobile, Bieler and his co-authors from The Field Museum, Florida International University, and Cape Breton University have reason to believe that the specimens they found in Florida are a long way from home — all signs point to these snails being an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific where they had not yet been recognized.

“We know the Atlantic worm-snail fauna very well, so the likelihood of finding a new species native to the Florida Keys is pretty small,” says Bieler. “These snails might have stowed away in bilge water or the hulls on cargo ships, and once they arrived here, they were the perfect colonizers.”

The shipwrecks making up an artificial reef in the Keys seem to have been an ideal new habitat for the worm-snails. The new snails join other animals that have already been confirmed as Pacific invasives on these artificial reefs in the Florida Keys: the Orange Tube Coral and a Giant Foam Oyster, the latter discovered by Bieler’s team on another regional wreck, the Thunderbolt, in 2003.

“The living coral reefs in the Florida Keys are already full of animals,” explains Bieler, “but the deliberately scuttled shipwrecks are empty, brand-new real estate. There were fewer organisms to compete with for space on the artificial reef, and fewer resident predators that could harm them.”

But it’s not necessarily a good thing that the worm-snails have taken so well to the shipwreck. “Worm-snails can be harmful to corals and other reef organisms,” says Bieler. “They can reduce coral growth and have been shown to serve as hosts for certain blood flukes, which are parasites of loggerhead turtles.”

On top of the risks that worm-snails carry, coral reefs are in trouble all over the world. “Climate change, pollution, overfishing, and other problems are putting our reefs in danger,” says Bieler. “And while artificial reefs, such as deliberately sunk ships, might help provide additional structures for corals and other marine animals to live on, we need to carefully monitor the species present. If we don’t, non-native and potentially invasive species like Thylacodes vandyensis might eventually make its way from the artificial reef to the natural reef and cause trouble for the animals living there.”

Discovering the newly arrived snail and clam species, says Bieler, is an important step to monitoring coral reef health. “The artificial reefs could serve as the canary in the coal mine,” says Bieler. “If we monitor their presence on the shipwrecks, we can keep tabs on them and potentially stop them from spreading to the living reefs.”

Despite the havoc that the worm-snails could potentially wreak, Bieler is glad to have found them. “The discovery of Thylacodes vandyensis helps highlight why museum collections are important. Without comparing countless snail specimens at The Field Museum and around the world, we wouldn’t have been able to identify these snails as a new species, and we wouldn’t be able to make the kinds of progress in monitoring and reef restoration that we’re now equipped to,” says Bieler. “Plus, they’re awfully interesting.”

See also here.

Australian Great Barrier Reef coral problems


This March 2017 WWF video is about the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It has coral bleaching problems.

Curaçao coral reefs video


This 1 February 2017 Dutch video is about biology student Auke-Florian Hiemstra, doing research about coral around Curaçao island.

Corals may get temporary reprieve from bleaching: here.

Good coral news from the Netherlands


This 2011 video from Sweden shows dead men’s finger coral and other marine life.

Translated from the Dutch Stichting ANEMOON marine biologists:

1 JANUARY 2017 – How nice is it to start 2017 immediately with some good news from our salty waters. Dead man’s fingers, our only cold water coral species after 1994 was observed less in the Oosterschelde [estuary in Zeeland province]. In the summer of 2011 it even seemed to have disappeared. From autumn 2011 on the coral spontaneously came back. Now colonies of dead man’s fingers are seen of almost unprecedented dimensions.

Malaysian coral reefs need more protection


This 2009 video says about itself:

In a vast, turquoise-blue corner of this Earth, the forces of nature have crafted a truly amazing underwater tapestry of corals. This is the Coral Triangle – ‘nursery of the seas’.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Most species-rich coral reefs are not necessarily protected

Published on 22 November 2016

Coral reefs throughout the world are under threat. After studying the reefs in Malaysia, Zarinah Waheed concluded that there is room for improvement in coral reef conservation. PhD defence 22 November.

One-third of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef are dead. This was the sombre conclusion drawn by Australian scientists six months ago. Pollution, shipping and climate change are destroying the world’s largest continuous reef, and other coral reefs seem to be facing the same fate.

Home country

PhD candidate Zarinah Waheed studied coral reefs in her home country Malaysia over recent years. She looked specifically at the coral diversity of these reefs and also at the connectivity between the reef locations. She found that the areas with the highest numbers of coral species are not necessarily protected.

94 species

During her research, Waheed examined how many species of three coral families – Fungiidae, Agariciidae and Euphylliidae – occur in different reefs spread throughout Malaysia. She made a number of diving trips in the region, together with her co-supervisor and coral expert Dr Bert W. Hoeksema of Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden. Before the diving trips, she first examined all specimens of the target species in the extensive coral collection held by Naturalis.

Coral Triangle

‘The eastern part of Malaysian Borneo is part of the so-called Coral Triangle,’ Waheed explained. ‘This is a vast area that is home to the highest diversity of corals in the world. Scientists have long suggested that diversity diminishes the further away you get from this Coral Triangle. This hypothesis had never been thoroughly examined as far as Malaysia is concerned. My research shows that this holds true based on the coral species we examined.’

Paradise for divers

Waheed discovered, for example, that Semporma, a paradise for divers in the eastern part of the country, has a total of 89 species of coral of the three families she studied. If you go further west – that is, further away from the Coral Triangle – the number of species drops to only 33 in Payar on the west coast of the Malaysian mainland.

Interconnected

Finally, Waheed investigated how the different Malaysian reefs are connected to one another. She did this by establishing how one species of mushroom coral (Heliofungia actiniformis), the blue starfish (Linckia laevigata) and the boring giant clam that goes by the name of Tridacna crocea are genetically related within each of their populations.

Water circulation pattern

The three model species Waheed studied exhibit different levels of connectivity among the coral reefs. She suspects that this may well be due to the effect of water circulation patterns in the research area. ‘The larvae of the coral, the starfish and the clam can survive for a while before they have to settle on the reef. In the meantime they are carried by the currents and may settle in other coral reefs from where the originate.’

Coral reef conservation

Surprisingly enough, reef areas that have the greatest diversity are not necessarily the best protected. For example, only a limited part of the coral reefs in Semporna are protected under a marine park. ‘Reefs outside the park boundary are not protected. During our diving trips we regularly heard dynamite explosions. Blast fishing is an illegal practice and it causes enormous damage to the coral reef but it is nonetheless a way of catching fish.’ Blast fishing occurs not only in Semporna, but also in other coral reef areas of Sabah, Malaysia, and the Coral Triangle.

JAPAN’S LARGEST CORAL REEF IS DYING About 70 percent of the Sekiseishoko reef has died. [HuffPost]

FIRST PHOTOS OF AMAZON CORAL REEF ARE STUNNINGLY BITTERSWEET Oil companies had previously obtained drilling rights to the area before the reef, which may have a signature marine biome, was discovered. [HuffPost]

Coral reefs on video


This video says about itself:

21 October 2016

Jonathan examines the biology of coral reefs and their importance to the marine ecosystem.

JONATHAN BIRD‘S BLUE WORLD is an Emmy Award-winning underwater science/adventure program that airs on public television in the United States.