IN PHOTOS: 12 ‘rare and new’ species in Verde Island Passage

Pia Ranada
Meet spectacular sea slugs, sea urchins, and starfish that further affirm the Philippines' reputation as a hotspot for marine biodiversity

TREASURES. Multi-colored tunicates lend a festive vibe in the Verde Island Passage. Image courtesy Gary Williams/California Academy of Sciences

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines now has more than 100 new species of marine life to boast of.

A recent expedition in the Verde Island Passage (VIP) led by the California Academy of Sciences yielded “rare and new” species, affirming Philippine seas as a hotspot for marine biodiversity.

Among the country’s newly-discovered aquatic residents are flamboyant sea slugs, delicate comb jelly, and flat worms in flashy colors.

Dr Terry Gosliner, head of the expedition, says his favorite find is a new sea slug of the Halgerda genus.

“I have been studying this group for many years and finding another new species in this group was a real surprise,” he told Rappler.

Academy researchers will study the newly-found species in the coming months using DNA sequencing and other technology. 

The VIP in Batangas province is tagged as the “center of the center of marine biodiversity” and is part of the Coral Triangle – an area which covers only 2% of the world’s oceans yet hosts 76% of the world’s coral species.

Here are 12 beautiful creatures discovered during the expedition with short descriptions from Gosliner:

Thorunna species

This bright purple nudibranch (sea slug) with an orange margin has intense colors to warn predators that it is toxic.

Stiliger species

This sap-sucking sea slug was found on green algae in shallow reefs off Verde Island.

Neoferdina species

This spectacular new starfish was found below 100 meters off of Verde Island.

Mourgona species

This brand new species of sea slug crawled out of a clump of algae that had been collected and brought to the lab two days earlier.

Coeloplana species

This new species of bottom-dwelling comb jelly lives communally on starfish.

Halgerda species

This beautiful species with dark ridges and spots is found in the mesophotic zone at a depth of around 100 meters.

Pseudoceros species

The bright colors of this new species of sea slug advertise that it is probably distasteful to fish.

Goniobranchus species

This beautiful new nudibranch can be distinguished by its bright yellow spots on a white background.

Herviella species

The brown spotted pattern and color of rings on the finger-like projections on the body distinguish this species of sea slug.

Siphopteron species

This tiny gem only reaches 3 to 5 millimeters in length when it is fully mature.

Trapania species

 This tiny whitish slug is found on rubble bottoms at a depth of 20 meters in Puerto Galera.

New species of heart urchin. Photo by Rich Mooi

This delicate new heart urchin is essentially a living fossil of a group that is extinct elsewhere.

Protection needed

As home to these aquatic gems, the Philippines should step up conservation efforts in the Verde Island Passage, said Gosliner. (READ: Isla Verde: Garbage, pollution threaten world jewel)

“A network of marine protected areas would help a great deal. Making certain that pollutants and plastics are not dumped into the ocean will also make them safe for coming generations,” he said.

Filipino marine biologist Wilfredo Licuanan, who was also part of the expedition, said, “I think there could be better coordination between DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and other institutions, local governments.”

Despite its significance to global biodiversity, the VIP is not yet a protected area by law. It is a protected area only by virtue of an 2006 Executive Order issued by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.