NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY | Red Orbit
WHEN PROFESSOR JIM THOMAS and his global team of researchers turned up at Madang Lagoon in Papua New Guinea they discovered a treasure trove of new species unknown to science - sea slugs, feather stars and amphipods, a shrimp-like animal (pictured).
“In the Madang Lagoon, we went a kilometre out off the leading edge of the active Australian Plate and were in 6,000 meters of water,” said Dr Thomas, a researcher at Nova Southeastern University’s National Coral Reef Institute in Hollywood, Florida.
“It was once believed there were no reefs on the north coast of PNG since there were no shallow bays and lagoons typical of most coral reef environments. But there was lots of biodiversity to be found.”
Thomas and his team discovered new species of sea slugs (nudibranchs), feather stars (crinoids) and amphipods (genus Leucothoe).
There was more variety of these indicator species found than there is in the entire length of Australia’s 2,500 km Great Barrier Reef.
“This was an astonishing discovery,” Thomas said. “We returned to our labs and began to formally assess our collections. We had no idea this lagoon’s bounty was so profound.”
The international team led by Thomas included researchers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, the California Academy of Sciences and the National Botanical Gardens of Ireland.
While in Madang late last year, they joined a large French contingent of scientists from the Paris Museum of Natural History.
The research team’s findings will be shared with the local villagers as well as regional and federal governments. It will also be published in peer-reviewed journals.
The Madang Lagoon faces many environmental threats by land-based pollution from a recently opened tuna cannery whose outfall is very close to the lagoon’s reefs.
“Hopefully, our discoveries will strongly encourage governing bodies to recognize the environmental importance of the lagoon and work to stop the pollution,” Thomas said.