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New Species found in Trinidad

For the last two weeks, I was on a short vacation in Trinidad and Tobago, a single nation of two small islands in the Caribbean. During my stay there, I met with Dr. Judith Gobin, a marine biologist at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad, who recently found 83 species living off of the coast of the island, several of which had never been seen before. Dr, Gobin was very excited about the new discoveries, pointing out that we really know very little about our oceans. “The ocean is the next frontier,” she said.

I had the chance to interview her, and learn not only about how they found these interesting new creatures but also what researchers in the West Indies plan to do next.

Dr. Gobin has been working in the field of marine biology for many years – first at the Institute for Marine Affairs, in Trinidad, where she worked for 16 years, and then at UWI since 1998. In 2014, she joined the E/V Nautilus, a research vessel on a global exploration that was visiting an underground volcano off the coast of Grenada. She managed to convince them to stop off the coast of Trinidad, where they explored four different deepwater sites. These included two previously unexplored sites that she named Mama D’Leau and La Diablesse, after characters from Trinidad folklore. Using a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV), Dr. Gobin and her colleagues were able to identify sites where methane gas was seeping out of the ground, indicating the presence of life. The ROV allowed them to collect numerous photos and a few samples from the deep ocean. This information showed similarities with other underwater species in the Caribbean but also revealed new species.

Trinidad and Tobago is the largest producer of natural gas and oil in the Caribbean. Dr. Gobin pointed out that it is much easier for oil companies to provide the money for exploring the ocean depths. Particularly among the small countries of the Caribbean, there is not the money for extensive research expeditions. Methane seeps, like the ones that Dr. Gobin explored, are often associated with oil and gas-rich fluids, which links them to oil exploration. Unfortunately, these companies rarely consider the environment. Often the act of extracting the oil damages the area that is being explored. Dr. Gobin’s idea is to persuade the oil companies to allow researchers to join their vessels during their initial explorations, which will give them a chance to discover more sea animals.

While I spoke with Dr. Gobin, she revealed to me that they had created videos and a book that they planned to release for educational purposes, as well as a presentation that the researchers were putting together. These materials will be used to educate students in Trinidad as well as to persuade the oil companies. All of this material will be provided free online, in order to increase the knowledge of people worldwide.

Read more about Dr. Gobin here and here.

Editor: Maria ‘Stefi’ Ticsa