Whatever we think we know about the ocean, it is just a miniscule sliver of what there really is to know. This point is pounded home each time researchers head into new areas to explore and come back with a plethora of new species.

California Academy of Sciences sent a team to the Philippines for a seven-week exploration focusing on the southern end of the Verde Island Passage, and they came back last month with over 100 species likely new to science. Among them are more than 40 species of nudibranch, also known as sea slugs.

This nudibranch is from the Mourgona genus and is a new species. This nudibranch is from the Mourgona genus and is a new species. (Photo: California Academy of Sciences)

“This remarkable stretch of coral rubble was carpeted in colorful nudibranchs,” says Terry Gosliner, PhD, senior curator of invertebrate zoology at the California Academy of Sciences and a principal investigator of the expedition. “It was like an underwater Easter egg hunt. It was one of the most exciting scientific dives of my 50-year career.” And no wonder. He says that most slugs he encountered appeared entirely new to science. It's not every day a scientist goes on an expedition and is overwhelmed with new species to describe.

A newly discovered species of nudibranch from the Goniobranchus genus.A newly discovered species of nudibranch from the Goniobranchus genus. (Photo: California Academy of Sciences)

Other species discovered include heart urchins, sea pens, starfish, comb jellies and even corals.

The expeditions serve an important purpose not only in identifying new species but also identifying where biodiversity exists and pointing it out for conservation efforts.

“The Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species—it’s one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on Earth,” says Gosliner. "Despite this richness, the region’s biodiversity has been relatively unknown. The species lists and distribution maps that we’ve created during our years surveying the country’s land and sea will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this incredible biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival."

Rich Mooi, PhD, academy curator of invertebrate zoology and geology, adds, "It’s critical we fill the gaps in knowledge about the life that thrives in the Philippines — you never know when you’re going to discover a living fossil among the corals. We want to work with folks in the Philippines and global scientific community to help sustain these unique environments for generations to come."


The academy's scientists work closely with scientists in the Philippines to help add to the body of information needed for conservation efforts. Meanwhile, they will be hard at work for the next several months using DNA sequencing and other tools to describe all the species they brought back from this most recent expedition.

A new heart urchin species discovered in the Philippines. A new heart urchin species discovered in the Philippines. (Photo: California Academy of Sciences)

A new and unknown species of sea pen. A new and unknown species of sea pen. (Photo: Gary Williams/California Academy of Sciences)

Related on MNN:

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.