In a stunning discovery off the coast of Cape Town, three new species of shrimp have been found by amateur freedivers and scientists scouring the shallow intertidal rock pools and kelp forests near Cape Point.
Professor Charles Griffiths, a renowned marine biologist from the University of Cape Town who was involved in identifying the new species, says this lays bare how much there is still to find in the ocean just off the shore of a major South African city.
“It is a revelation to most biologists,” said Griffiths. “This discovery was made by amateurs with a butterfly net scooping around.”
One of the shrimp species—a striking red and white creature about the size of a match head—was found by local freediver and photographer Craig Foster. After receiving a tip-off from Griffiths about the possibility of new shrimps at a specific site among the kelp forests near Simon’s Town, Foster spent days exploring pools and collecting samples.
Swimming among the kelp forests and granite outcrops, he would hold his breath for minutes at a time and scour the sea floor with a net. After catching a number of specimens—barely visible with the naked eye—he placed them in vials, strapped them to his waist, and swam back to shore.
The samples were then taken to the University of Cape Town, where Griffiths worked with a crustacean expert in Austria, Karl Wittman, to identify the species. The shrimp was later named Heteromysis Fosteri, after Foster. Two other species found by Griffiths and his colleagues at a nearby site are also described in the new paper, published this week in the electronic journal, Zookeys.
This is not the first time a South African shrimp has made the news
In 2003, Wittmann and Griffiths were involved in the identification of another spectacular species of shrimp called a “Stargazer”—a strange-looking creature with spiral eyes on the top of its head—that was found at a similar spot by amature scuba diver and photographer, Guido Zsilavecz.
“Citizen scientists” have been instrumental in finding these new species, says Griffiths. People like Foster and Zsilavecz are “making new observations because they are doing things in a different way to us scientists; they are actually going and observing every single day.”
“When most people find something new, the first thing they assume is that scientists know its name—but that’s often not the case.”
Professor Griffiths has discovered and described over 100 new species in his 25-year career as a scientist. Now a retired UCT professor, he doesn’t plan on stopping. With an estimated 75 percent of all marine species still undescribed, he believes these recent discoveries are the tip of the iceberg in the nutrient-rich waters of the Cape, and says there could be “dozens” of new animals in this one small area of coastline.
“We are working in a different way to how scientists worked in the past,” explained Griffiths. Instead of going out and looking for as many different animals as possible, the teams are now focusing on specific groups, such as shrimps, and looking for new species within that group.”
“The more you focus on one specific thing,” he said, “the more you find.”
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This story was originally published on Safarious.com