A new animal with 200 legs was just discovered, and it's sucking up deep-sea trash

A team of marine biologists, led by professors Francisco A Solís Marín, Andrea A Caballero Ochoa, and Carlos A Conejeros-Vargas from the Institute of Ocean Sciences and Limnology in Mexico, have discovered a new species of deep-sea cucumber in the Gulf of Alaska. The sea creature, named Synallactes mcdanieli or the McDaniel sea cucumber, is characterized by its pale pink violet coloring, zig-zagging rows of 214 tube-like feet, and a diet that includes fish waste, algae, and other organic matter.

The new species was named after Neil McDaniel, a Canadian naturalist who specializes in the study of sponges, corals, anemones, and sea cucumbers. Like other wild sea cucumbers, the McDaniel sea cucumber roams the deep seafloor, using its hundreds of feet to move and grab bottom sediments with its peltate tentacles.

Sea cucumbers have been recognized for their important role in ocean health, often referred to as the “janitors of the sea.” They filter and clean the seafloor as they move, recycling nutrients into cleaner sand. One of the by-products of their sparkly clean digestion is an increase in calcium carbonate (CaCO3), a compound that keeps corals alive and thriving.

Professor Maria Byrne, the director of One Tree Island Research Station at the Great Barrier Reef, stated that sea cucumbers counter the negative effects of ocean acidification. “In a healthy reef, dissolution of calcium carbonate sediment by sea cucumbers and other bioeroders appears to be an important component of the natural calcium carbonate turnover,” Byrne explained to the University of Sydney.

However, sea cucumbers have been declining due to overfishing and ocean pollution. Scientists hope to boost conservation efforts by spreading the word about the key role they play in their underwater ecosystems. The discovery of the McDaniel sea cucumber hopefully signals a positive direction for the future of sea cucumbers and their ocean neighbors.

Marine ecologist Cody Clements told NPR that sea cucumbers provide an extra level of insurance against the things causing coral decline. “Doesn’t mean it’s gonna fix everything, but we want to give them as much of a fighting chance as we can.”

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