NZ VIDEO: Explore one of the world's deepest underwater caves
Wed, 27 Jun 2012 5:00a.m.
Divers have discovered species new to science in one of the deepest flooded caves in the world.
A transparent amphipod, a worm, and a small snail were found by Australian cave divers in the Pearse Resurgence - a cave in the Mt Arthur Range, close to Nelson.
There are only 16 diveable caves in the world deeper than the Pearse Resurgence.
The divers were collecting samples of stygofauna, which translates as "animals from the River Styx", the river of Greek myth that leads to the underworld.
The stygofauna contributes to the health of the aquifer by biofiltration, so they can represent an important marker of the health of the water.
Such aquifer studies are proving to be rich troves of biodiversity.
"It's not easy to get inside the caves, and we want to know about the very specific life in them," says NIWA expert Dr Graham Fenwick.
A species of amphipod crustacean that was found in the Pearse Resurgence is new to science.
"It is six-to-eight millimetres long, the divers could see it crawling over rocks; it really is a beautiful animal," says Dr Fenwick.
"It belongs to the poorly known genus Paraleptamphopus, one of two genera within the New Zealand endemic family Paraleptamphopidae."
The two other stygofaunal invertebrates discovered in the system were a minute gastropod snail - about 1.5mm diameter - and an oligochaete worm - about 8mm long.
Both were taken from rare deposits of fine sandy sediments within the main shaft at depths of 15m to 34m.
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