Hundreds of new animal species have been discovered by marine researchers studying Australian reefs as a part of the Census of Marine Life, an international effort to catalogue all life in the oceans. The findings include such curious creatures as tongue-eating isopod parasites living on fish and several new species of tanaid crustaceans, some with claws longer than their bodies. The team also found about 150 species of soft coral thought to be new to science, scores of tiny amphipod crustaceans of which an estimated 40 to 60% will be formally described for the first time, and dozens of small crustaceans likewise believed to be unknown to the scientific community. Researchers actually suspect that one or even several new families of species are to be found among the sampled crustaceans.

The investigated locales are the Lizard and Heron Islands (part of the Great Barrier Reef), plus the Ningaloo Reef off north-western Australia. All locations are considered well known and popular among scuba divers, and the research team was therefore quite surprised when they stumbled upon such a prolific collection of species unknown to science. This shows how little we still know about the species that inhabit our planet; even the ones living in habitats frequented by hundreds or even thousands of people each year.

comlmap Tongue eating isopods and hundreds of other new species found in Australian waters
Map of locations

People have been working at these places for a long time and still there are literally hundreds and hundreds of new species that no one has ever collected or described,” says Julian Caley, a scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science who is helping to lead the research. We were all surprised and excited to find such a large variety of marine life never before described – most notably soft coral, isopods, tanaid crustaceans and worms – and in waters that divers access easily and regularly. Compared to what we don’t know, our knowledge of marine life is a proverbial drop in the ocean. Inventorying the vast diversity and abundance of life across all ocean realms challenges both science and the imagination.

In order to aid future explorations, researchers left several “houses” – formally known as Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) – for marine creatures to colonize on the ocean floor. The houses consist of layered plastic structures and have been designed to appeal to a variety of sea life. Over the next one to three years, the houses will be collected and their tenants investigated.

See pictures of some of the creatures here

The Census of Marine Life ( is a global network of researchers in more than 80 nations engaged in a 10-year initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life in the oceans – past, present, and future. The network will release the first Census of Marine Life in 2010.