“It’s as big as a Toyota Sienna.” That was the description used this spring by a radio commentator about a very large sponge that was discovered in the Pacific Ocean last year. Scientists aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship found the gigantic creature about 7,000 feet below the surface of the ocean near Hawaii.
NOAA scientist Daniel Wagner and biologist Christopher Kelley were aboard the Okeanos Explorer durinng a month-long expedition from July to August 2015 within protected waters of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. During the survey, a remote device came upon the large sea creature.
Divers collected a small sample of the giant sponge to determine which species it might be related. The scientists think the sponge may represent a new species. They’re also attempting to calculate the age of the sponge. Experts say that many large sponges have estimated ages as old as 2,300 years.
The Hawaiian sponge measures 3.5 metres long, 2 metres tall, and 1.5 metres wide. That makes it approximately twice the size of the previously largest sponge that lives off the coast of Western Canada.
What are sponges and why should we celebrate them?
The scientific name is Porifera for “pore bearing”. Sponges are the most simple multi-cellular animals. They attach themselves to a solid part of the ocean floor. Sponges are filter feeders, that is they capture and eat bacteria size particles. They do this by forcing water through the “canals” and “chambers” with numerous flagella or miniature “whips”.
There are two basic types of these colorful animals, encrusting and free-standing. The encrusting variety appear somewhat moss-like and often cover the surface of rocks. The free-standing sponges are the ones that grow into various shapes. The free-standing sponges are the ones that we’re most familiar. The giant sponge near Hawaii is a free-standing sponge.
We should celebrate, or at least be aware of sponges because they could be at risk due to global climate change. Just as corals have a “symbiotic relationship” between the microbes, so do sponges. The breaking point of the microbes of both corals and sponges is 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit).
Higher temperatures would threaten sponge and coral survival, thus causing a severe impact on the health of ecosystems in the seas. Sponges ultimately affect the health and survival of our own lives.
So, think about sponges, especially the big Hawaiian sponge, today during World Sponge Month.