New species of octocoral the jewel of Caloundra

25 February 2022

Queensland Museum scientists have re-described a species of bright blue octocorals that can only be found on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Visitors to Caloundra would be familiar with the vibrant blue octocorals found in intertidal pools on the beach, which were once thought to be found around the world, but Queensland Museum Collection Manager of Sessile Marine Invertebrates, Dr Merrick Ekins has proven they are in fact only found on the Sunshine Coast.

Dr Ekins, in collaboration with the Tel Aviv University in Israel, the Hervey Mudd College in the US and Naturalis in Holland, found it was a completely new species of cnidarian.

Cnidarian are a group of marine animals of more than 9,000 living species including corals, jellyfish, sea anemones, octocorals, sea pens, sea whips and sea fans amongst others.

“This particular Sunshine Coast octocoral, was previously known as Sansibia, but upon further examination, we found it to be a new species,” Dr Ekins said.

“I decided to name this species ‘opalia’ as the colour resembles the inner fire you see in opals and it’s so beautiful.”

The new species was recently published in Zootaxa, along with another new species of octocoral Dr Ekins collected from Ningaloo during the CREERs and Kimberley Expeditions, which he named after the famous region ‘ningalooensis’.

Together the two new species make up a new genus Latissimia.

Queensland Museum Network CEO Dr Jim Thompson said it was a great example of science at work.

“The work of a scientist is to question and investigate the world around us,” Dr Thompson said.

“I am sure many residents of the Sunshine Coast have seen these beautiful octocorals while exploring the intertidal pools at the beach, not knowing they were unique to this part of the world.

“This is just another example of how science is continuing to evolve and new technology can aide with the description or in this case the re-description of new species.

“I commend Dr Ekins for this fortuitous find and the work he continues to do in this field.”

Read more about octocorals and the work of Queensland Museum scientists at www.qm.qld.gov.au

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Christine Robertson, Senior Media Officer, 0417 741 710
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