Mike Foster, professor emeritus at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory in California, has studied the global distribution of rhodoliths, and is the author of numerous scientific papers on the subject. He says the discovery of rhodoliths in Alaska marks an important milestone in scientists' understanding of coralline algae.
"If these beds are anything like those elsewhere in the world, they are likely critical habitat for associated species, and there are probably more new species in them than just the rhodoliths," said Foster. "Such discoveries also send an important message about how little we know about the sea."
The discovery came after Konar and Katrin Iken, assistant professor of marine biology with the university's Institute of Marine Science, accidentally dropped a small strainer, or sieve, overboard. The scientists had been conducting nearshore surveys of marine life as part of an international study sponsored by the Census of Marine Life NaGISA program and funded by the Gulf Ecosystem Monitoring program. "A sieve is worth about $75, so we wanted to get it back," said Konar. "We descended into about 60 feet of water and found the sieve right away. But then I noticed these little pink tumbleweeds everywhere. I thought I was looking at a rhodolith bed, but rhodolith beds had never been described in Alaska. We were shocked to see how many there were down there."
Konar said she knew right away the find was significant. She'd seen rhodoliths in places like Baja California, Mexico. But in her more than 15 years of diving Alaska waters, she had never come across them.
"The biggest ones may have been about the size of a ping-pong ball, but many were smaller. They have lots of branches that come out of a centerpiece. They look like toy jacks, except they are pi