New coral discovered on Great Barrier Reef
DOZENS of new coral species have been discovered on a recent voyage along the Great Barrier Reef.
A team of scientists completed a 21-day trip from the Capricorn Bunkers off Gladstone to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait late last year.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University Professor Andrew Baird said they found new species on almost every dive.
Scientists from Queensland Museum, University of Technology Sydney and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia were also part of the expedition.
Professor Baird said the discoveries were timely as recent molecular advances revealed much of the existing classification of corals was deeply flawed.
"One hard coral species, acropora hyacinthus, was previously thought to be found on almost every reef crest along the length of the reef," Professor Baird said.
"What we once thought was a single species is potentially five different species - some with a very limited geographical range."
The team also found a number of species not previously seen on the reef.
"The new species we found means that the biodiversity of some groups is up to three times higher than we had thought," KAUST's Dr Francesca Benzoni said.
JCU PhD student Jeremy Horowitz said much of what they found was new.
"Despite the economic and ecological importance of black corals, this is the first survey of this group on the reef," he said.
"It's amazing how much remains unknown and how much more work needs to be done."
The team will now work on formally describing the "overwhelming" volume of new material.
"We need more trained taxonomists - biologists who can group organisms into categories - and more funds to reassess the taxonomy of common groups found on the reef, including hard, soft and black corals," Professor Baird said.
"Understanding the diversity of species on the reef underpins virtually every area of research and conservation.
"It is vital to ensure we have a robust understanding of species diversity and their distributions, but taxonomy isn't currently a research priority. This has to change.
"You can't manage the Great Barrier Reef if you don't know how many species you have, how common they are, or where they are found."