Preservation attempts for rare sponge

In a distinctive initiative aimed at preserving the fragile ecosystem of Tauranga’s waterfront, environmentalists and marine experts are carefully relocating a unique sneezing sea sponge.

Resembling an enchanting fusion of a large blue cauliflower, this rare marine organism was discovered in 2020 by Sam McCormack, a student at the University of Waikato.

Found flourishing on an old pile of seawall rock and debris in the area, the blue sponge, capable of reaching over one meter in diameter, has become a focal point of conservation endeavors amidst the redevelopment of Beacon Wharf. The sponge manifests as vast, pale blue-grey, multi-lobed cushions.

Dubbed Te Awanui by the local iwi to signify its bond with Tauranga Moana and the community, the sneezing sea sponge, scientifically referred to as ‘Dysidea teawanui’, is purportedly the sole specimen of its kind globally. This sponge possesses the unique ability to expel any sediment covering it, akin to a ‘sneeze’.

Chris Battershill, Coastal Science Professor at Waikato University, expresses excitement over the discovery, noting the presence of intriguing molecular structures within the sponges, known for their potent bioactive properties. Describing the sponges as crucial sea filters, Chris emphasizes their significant role in the marine food chain and their contribution to seabed productivity.

Tauranga City Council’s Senior Programme Manager for Civic Redevelopment Projects, Beau Fraser, underscores the importance of relocating the blue sponge as a prelude to the Beacon Wharf redevelopment, conducted in collaboration with Tonkin Taylor, Bay Underwater Services, and the University of Waikato. The relocation ensures the sponge’s safety and preserves its habitat along the waterfront.

Beyond enhancing recreational spaces for the community, the Beacon Wharf redevelopment aligns with the Council’s commitment to conserving unique ecosystems that enrich the city’s vibrancy. Additionally, plans for redeveloping the seawall further south near the tidal steps and Fisherman’s Wharf area include the installation of 8000 tonnes of stones over the next six months. Living sea wall pods integrated into the design aim to foster marine life and encourage its growth in the vicinity.

Beau reassures that the discovery of the blue sponge hasn’t disrupted any redevelopment plans. The meticulous relocation process underscores the endeavor to safeguard the distinctive habitat of the Te Awanui sponge, epitomizing the delicate equilibrium between urban development and the preservation of rare marine life in this picturesque coastal region.

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