Oceana, alongside an international team of scientists, discovered a new species of glass sponge in the western Mediterranean. Sympagella delauzei measures about three to five inches long, and as found as depths of about 1,100 to 1,600 feet. Because Mediterranean waters are generally not favorable to glass sponges, which prefer colder waters, the discovery came as a surprise to the scientists. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.
“These findings, along with the review of the species of glass sponge in the Mediterranean, show us what must be taken into account when it comes to protecting the sponge aggregations,” Oceana director of projects and research and study co-author Ricardo Aguilar said in a press release. “Previous studies have shown that glass sponges are an important source of silicon, one of the basic nutrients for the oceans.”
The sponge was discovered during a research cruise in August 2010, when the team was investigating canyons in the northwest Mediterranean along the continental French coast underwater communities. The team used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to capture photographs and visual surveys of undersea ecological communities, as well as collecting samples of the new sponge species for identification onshore. Glass sponges contain glass-like structures made of silica, which form complex skeletons that fuse with chemicals to ward off predators, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The sponge underwent DNA analysis and phylogenetic identification by Dr. Nicole Boury-Ensault, a sponge specialist from IMBE. Oceana collaborated with scientists from the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Marine Ecology (IMBE) (France) and the University of Victoria (Canada) in a series of ongoing research cruises under an initiative by the French Marine Protected Areas Agency (AAMP).
The discovery of this new glass sponge is said to increase the value of places where it was discovered, such as Valinco Canyon in Corsica or the Avempace, Avenzoar, Catifas, Cabliers, Tofiño and Chella banks in the Alboran Sea. Chella banks, also known as the Seco de los Olivos seamount, was recently declared a Site of Community Importance by the Spanish government in the LIFE + INDEMARES project, which identifies marine areas around Spain worthy of further protections. Oceana has investigated communities around seamounts extensively, especially through many of Oceana’s expeditions.