Rare species surface in Fiordland 'china shops'
19 Mar 2009
Scientists surveying ‘china shops’ - or untouched underwater areas - of Fiordland, New Zealand are excited by the discovery of some new and fragile species they believe will add strength to the area being recognised as a world heritage park.
The group of scientific divers who’ve been surveying the area for two weeks have found more than 20 new invertebrates and six new species of algae.
Fiordland is relatively unexplored partly because of its remoteness and also because the fiords’ underwater depths reach up to 400m.
The survey is part of a collaboration between DOC (Department of Conservation) and NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research).
‘China shops’ are areas of particular biological interest or fragility, and some are designated as no anchoring zones.
As well as the new species found, the scientists have also identified several new areas worthy of ‘china shop’ status and protection.
Project leader Trevor Willis said many of the areas had never been dived before and were "truly spectacular". One had been nicknamed ‘Smiley Face’ after the numerous large, seven-gilled sharks the divers encountered.
Dr Willis said he hoped the discoveries would help give the area more credibility.
"The more we know about it the stronger case we have for giving it recognition as an underwater heritage park," Dr Willis said.
From what had been discovered, Fiordland had some of the most unique and diverse marine ecology in the world, he said.
"Fiordland is still relatively untouched. We probably know more about the marine life of Antarctica than this unique area on our own doorstep. I am certain that further surveys will yield new species, and we will be constantly revising the marine biodiversity of Fiordland," said Dr Willis.
The scientific team will return to Fiordland next month (April 2009) to continue surveying the area. Using divers with underwater cameras and a remote operated vehicle, they hope to go to depths of more than 100m.
"We're going to do what no-one's really done before," Dr Willis said.
Fiordland was a huge area to explore, and they had only scraped the surface so far.
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