Scientists name new species of limu from Papahānaumokuākea after island conservation leader Laura Thompson
A team of international scientists recently published the scientific description of a new species of red algae from Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The new alga, Croisettea kalaukapuae, was named after highly respected community and conservation leader Laura Kalaukapu Thompson, who passed away in August 2020 at the age of 95. Kalaukapu, “the sacred leaf,” was Thompson’s Hawaiian middle name bestowed upon her by her grandmother.
Thompson was a founding member of the Reserve Advisory Council for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve established in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. Her leadership on the council contributed to the high levels of protection established for Papahānaumokuākea when the Reserve was designated as a marine national monument by President George W. Bush in 2006. Thompson was also a strong supporter of using Papahānaumokuākea as a place for the perpetuation of Native Hawaiian cultural practices. Beyond her work on behalf of Papahānaumokuākea, Thompson was an advocate for protecting all of the natural and cultural resources of Hawai‘i.
Known affectionately as “Aunty Laura” to her friends and conservation colleagues, she was also the mother of Lita Blankenfeld, Myron Thompson Jr., and master navigator Nainoa Thompson. Laura Thompson was married to Myron “Pinky” Thompson, renowned social worker, former Bishop Estate trustee, and former president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
The new species of algae, Croisettea kalaukapuae, was discovered by scientists using technical closed-circuit rebreathers to dive to extreme depths in excess of 300 feet. These deep coral reefs, or so-called Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems, are virtually unexplored, and host a wealth of undiscovered biodiversity.
“What a joy and honor to name a new species after a beloved kupuna who made strides for the community to arrive in the present, celebrating 2022 as the Year of the Limu,” said the lead author of the paper, Feresa Corazon P. Cabrera. Cabrera is a University of Hawai‘i Ph.D. candidate with Dr. Alison Sherwood in the School of Life Sciences.
“Having been shaped by the same evolutionary pressures in these cold twilight depths, these red limu blades look similar to each other making it hard to initially classify them,” she said. “So we relied on both morphological and molecular data to tell them apart.”
NOAA research ecologist Dr. Randy Kosaki, who first discovered the new species in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, recalls the 280 foot dive as “one of the darkest and coldest dives I’ve ever been on, with California-like water temperatures in the high 50s.”
“Given all of Aunty Laura’s contributions to the protection of Papahānaumokuākea, it seems especially fitting that a rare species from these kupuna islands will now carry her name in perpetuity,” he said.
The scientists also described three other new species of Hawaiian red algae for the first time. These species were given their formal scientific species epithets in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) by the Papahānaumokuākea Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group (CWG), which is coordinated by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. This is a continuation of the CWG’s goal to name new species in an attempt to define and articulate a present-day relationship to elements and species within the Hawaiian universe, as a place-holder for future generations.
In honor of Mr. Skippy Hau, renowned long-time biologist on Maui with the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, one of these new species, Croisettea haukoaweo, a deep reef species from over 300 ft. off Maui, received the epithet haukoʻaweo in reference to “the vibrant limu entwined with pūkoʻakoʻa (Halimeda spp.) found in the cool deep waters ”. Hau is well-known for his lifelong dedication to saving Hawai‘i’s unique endemic stream fauna and his love for the ocean and his Maui community. There were two new species of additional algae that were given the names, pākualapa and ʻōhelouliuli.
The full scientific paper, “Further studies on Hawaiian Kallymeniaceae (Rhodophyta) reveal pseudocryptic diversity in the genus Croisettea”, published in the journal Phycologia, can be accessed online at phycologia.com.