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BASCOMB: In January, scientists from Conservation International began a study of the sea life at Saba Bank Atoll, the world's third largest coral atoll, located about 150 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. The cornucopia of diversity discovered there came as shock to everyone involved, including the scientists.
Prior to the expedition, 50 species of fish were known to inhabit the atoll. After just two weeks of research that number jumped to more than 200 fish species. Scientists literally found new varieties of fish every day they went into the water. But, the abundance of life in these corals is not limited to fish. Among the coral dwellers are several commercially valuable species of seaweed that have the potential to bring new economic vitality to the region.
The Smithsonian Institute has declared the Saba Bank Atoll the richest area in the Caribbean basin for seaweed. The unprecedented richness of marine life, and vulnerability of the coral beds, conservationists say, make the Saba Bank Atoll a perfect candidate for protection as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area under the International Maritime Organization.
Granted that designation, the corals would become a "no anchor zone" and large ships ? including Trans-Atlantic super tankers - would have to use alternative shipping routes to avoid damaging corals with their anchors and chains.
That's this week's note on emerging science. I'm Bobby Bascomb.