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Unveiling hidden sponge biodiversity within the Hawaiian reef cryptofauna

Citation: Vicente, J., Webb, M.K., Paulay, G. et al. Unveiling hidden sponge biodiversity within the Hawaiian reef cryptofauna. Coral Reefs 41, 727–742 (2022).

Our perception of reef diversity is dominated by corals, fish, and a few other groups that visibly dominate the reef surface. However, the bulk of reef biodiversity resides within the reef framework, and this cryptobiota is fundamentally important for the surface community. Sponges are abundant and conspicuous on the reef surface in productive, continental reefs, but largely vanish from surveys of the oligotrophic reefs of Oceania. However, their diversity in the cryptobiota remains poorly characterized. Here, we explore the contribution of cryptobenthic sponges to overall sponge diversity on 1750 m2 of reef habitat in Kāneʻohe Bay and Waimanalo in the island of Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. We also assessed cryptic sponges using 15 m2 of autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS) deployed in this same area. We used integrative taxonomy combining morphology, COI and 28S barcoding to delineate and track species, most of which are poorly known or undescribed. We documented 186 OTUs, 150 of which are new records for the Hawaiian Islands, increasing the known sponge fauna of Kāneʻohe Bay by 3.5-fold, and that of the Hawaiian Islands by 2.5-fold. More than ¾ of the sponge OTUs were cryptobenthic. Reef sampling provided access to 31% (44 OTUs), whereas 52% (75 OTUs) were retrieved exclusively from ARMS. These results illustrate that the interstices of ARMS units provide suitable habitat for settlement of cryptobenthic sponges that would otherwise be impossible to access through traditional field surveys. Tracking species with provisional names, using integrative species delineation anchored to vouchers, images, and DNA barcodes provides a powerful approach for working with such a poorly understood fauna.

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The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:


Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare


Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
       More for Taking Community Action