Researchers from the US and Taiwan have allegedly discovered an new species of marine sponge that helps feed coral reef communities around the island of Siaoliouciou (小琉球), Pingtung County.
The researchers made the discovery while conducting research on Taiwan’s coral reef ecosystem diversity.
Chris Freeman, a research fellow at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, Florida, has collaborated with the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Pingtung County on the joint project to explore the diversity of sponges on coral reefs in Taiwan, a spokesman for the aquarium said yesterday.
The research examines the relationships between marine sponges and sponge-associated microbes through climate change, and draws a comparison between sponges in Pingtung’s coral reefs and those in other coral reef regions, such as the Caribbean.
The diversity and abundance of sponges directly reflects the health of the coral reef ecosystem, according to the spokesman.
Sponges keep the reef alive by recycling vast amounts of organic matter to feed snails, crabs and other creatures, according to an international research report.
With the assistance of aquarium research fellow Fan Tung-yun (樊同雲), Freeman gathered 10 varieties of sponges, including one species they believe is newly recorded for the Pacific region.
Freeman has taken specimens back to his laboratory in the US to confirm whether it is a new species.
Sponges are among various types of marine animals that acquire nutrients and food by filtering water through their bodies.
Freeman suggested that Taiwan should protect its diverse and rich coral reef sponges, particularly in the Kenting National Park, the spokesman noted.
The spokesman added that Taiwan’s sponges will play a key role in Freeman’s research and said the results of his research will be published in major international journals.