Four new algae species discovered in Hawaii’s deep waters

New species of deep-water algae photographed at 188 feet at Kure Atoll in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo: Daniel Wagner/NOAA)

Scientists working with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries announced the discovery of four new species of deep-water algae from Hawaii.

The new species of marine algae, or limu, were collected between 200-400 feet, depths not typically known for marine algae. They are similar in appearance to limu pālahalaha (Ulva lactuca), or sea lettuce.

“I was astounded at the abundance and size of these algae, which resembled something you would see in a shallow-water lagoon, not at 400 feet,” said Heather Spalding, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii Department of Botany and lead author of the study. “If you picked up one of these algae on the beach, you couldn’t tell if it was from a nearby rock or washed up from the deep, the species look that similar.”

Scientists consulted with the Native Hawaiian community to develop meaningful names for the new species to honor the great importance they have in Hawaiian culture. One species was named Ulva iliohaha, which refers to the foraging behavior of ʻīlioholoikauaua, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, one of the best-known residents of Papahānaumokuākea.

Spalding has been collaborating with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for several years studying samples collected by NOAA divers working in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Scientists anticipate that many additional new species of algae will be described in the coming years from samples collected by NOAA divers on future expeditions to the monument.

“These findings redefine our understanding of algal distributions in Hawaiʻi, and hint at the great number of other new species that are likely to be discovered in the future from these amazing deep-water reefs,” said Daniel Wagner, Papahānaumokuākea research specialist with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

The study describing the new species of limu was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Phycology and can be viewed online here.

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