Back in history: New form of sea life

Zoonthids are a common sight on the reef crest and in many of the sublittoral area. Pictured here is one of the newly-discovered species measuring from half a centimetre to three centimetres. Picture: FILE

The coral reefs we see are a result of an extremely complex system of marine life. To increase our understanding of this, scientists all over the world are examining plant and animal life occurring within the reefs.

Here in Fiji, several species of Zoonthids, previously unknown to scientists, were discovered by Angus Muirhead, a student from the University of Swansea, in Wales, United Kingdom.

According to a report by The Fiji Times on June 2, 1982, the discovery was made while Angus was doing part of his studies in Fiji towards obtaining a PhD in Marine Biology.

His studies were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council of Britain.

Many types of animals exist in reef areas although a considerable number do not contribute to reef construction.

Zoonthids fall into the category of coelenterates (marine animals, such as hydroids. jellyfishes and corals) in which the characteristic structure is a large central cavity with a single opening.

In appearance they are like colonial sea anemones and vary in colour. In other parts of the world they are known to contain chemicals extremely toxic to humans.

But there are others which may yet prove useful to the medical world. Although he was here for over 18 months, doing mainly field work, Angus said it would take him another two to three (months) for him to compile a report.

With time closing in on him, he would take samples of these newly-discovered species back to England for analysis of their chemical content.

He said he hoped future studies would progress from there towards an investigation of their ecology and factors which affect their distribution.

The Director of the Institute of Marine Resource at USP, Dr Uday Raj, said at the time there were no further plans for research on Zoonthids. He said they would await a report on the new species.

According to Angus, some bio-chemical research was being done in the Caribbean and Hawaii on Zoonthids found there.

His field work was mainly done diving around reef crests, sea grass beds and around other main reef areas. He took photos and salvaged many types of Zoonthids for research back home.

In his work here, Angus said he was grateful to staff of the Institute of Marine Resources at USP for their “invaluable” help during his diving expeditions.

“In particular, I am most grateful to Dr Raj for making the institute’s facilities available to me.”

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