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Creatures of the Celebes Sea

Creatures of the Celebes Sea

An expedition to an unexplored sea seeks new species


Where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet lies a region known as the “coral triangle”—a region of thousands of islands encompassing the Philippines, Indonesia, parts of Malaysia. and other nations. Surrounding the islands are warm, shallow seas that separate deep ocean basins that drop down to as much as 5,000 meters.

Scientists think that distinct, new species may have evolved in these isolated basins, separated by warm shallow barriers, with species differing from one basin to the next. One of these basins is the Celebes Sea—east of Borneo, north of Sulawesi, and south of Zamboanga—a remote destination that may be home to the greatest marine biodiversity on Earth and that few scientists have had a chance to explore.

The coral triangle’s deep basins lie within several countries’ economic zones, so securing required governmental permissions, contracting for a research ship, and the logistics of shipping equipment needed for exploration involved negotiations that took years to complete.

Finally, a four-week expedition led by Larry Madin, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and National Geographic Society senior photographer Emory Kristof was launched aboard the Philippine vessel Hydrographer Presbitero in September 2007. A team of U.S. and Filipino marine scientists embarked on the “Inner Space Speciation Project,” supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration, the National Geographic Society, the WHOI Ocean Life Institute, and the New England Aquarium.

To their delight, but not to their surprise, the researchers found previously unknown species.

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