The deep, cold water in Fiordland’s fiords is home to all types of creatures. We would recognise the dolphins and seals, but we know much less about some of the other creatures living there. Sponges are animals that spend their whole lives attached to hard surfaces and play an essential part in the fiord’s water quality and forming habitats for other creatures.
However, all might not be well with Fiordland’s sponges. Researchers were recently shocked to find many bleached sponges – animals that were usually a soft brown colour were a stark, bright, white. James Bell, a sponge expert from Victoria University, Wellington, sought support from the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation to do urgent follow-up research to learn more about this sponge bleaching event.
Funds from the LHCF allowed James and his team to work out that the bleached sponges are still alive but are not doing well. It allowed them to explore whether unusually high seawater temperatures are causing stress for the sponges and whether the beached sponges were more likely to be eaten by fish. They were also able to get samples of the sponges to take back to the lab to do further research. This important research is ongoing, and the LHCF is delighted to have been able to help out.