Visitors to Caloundra would be familiar with the vibrant blue octocorals found in intertidal pools around the beach, and now scientists have confirmed the species can only be found on the Sunshine Coast.

The octocoral was once thought to be found around the world, but Queensland Museum sessile marine invertebrates collection manager Dr Merrick Ekins has proven they are in fact only found on the 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 in fact a new species of cnidarian. Cnidarian are a group of marine animals of more than 9000 living species including corals, jellyfish, sea anemones, octocorals, sea pens, sea whips and sea fans, among 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 Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, 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,” he 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.”


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