A new species of deep see algae discovered at Kure Atoll. Courtesy of NOAA

A new species of deep see algae discovered at Kure Atoll. Courtesy of NOAA

Scientists working with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries announced earlier this week the discovery of four new species of deep-water algae from Hawaiʻi.

Marine algae, or limu, are very important in Hawaiian culture, used in foods, ceremonies and as adornments in traditional hula. The new species of limu were collected between 200 and 400 feet, depths not typically known for marine algae.

“I was astounded at the abundance and size of these algae, which resembled something you would see in a shallow-water lagoon, not at 400 feet.” Said Heather Spalding, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaiʻi Department of Botany and lead author of the study.

Heather Spalding is seen here examining a limi specimen in the lab. Courtesy of NOAA

Heather Spalding is seen here examining a limi specimen in the lab. Courtesy of NOAA

Spalding has been collaborating with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for several years, studying samples collected by NOAA divers working in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. She and her colleagues at UH and University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories conducted DNA analyses that showed the species are very different than those found in Hawai‘i’s shallow waters, even though they are very similar in appearance.

“If you picked up one of these algae on the beach, you couldn’t tell if it was from a nearby rock or washed up from the deep, the species look that similar,” Spalding said.

The newly discovered species are similar in appearance to limu pālahalaha (Ulva lactuca), or sea lettuce.

Scientists consulted with the Native Hawaiian community to develop meani