The "Bob Marley Sponge"

Pipestela candelabra

Known distribution of the Bob Marley Sponge, Pipestela candelabra, on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Sea, the type species of a new genus and new species from the Great Barrier Reef. Known distribution of the Bob Marley Sponge, Pipestela candelabra, on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Sea, the type species of a new genus and new species from the Great Barrier Reef. New genus and species of sponge, Pipestela candelabra, described recently from the Great Barrier Reef with Rastafarian hair-like growth form. The Bob Marley Sponge, Pipestela candelabra, the type species of a new genus and new species from the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.This peculiar sponge is erect, up to 40 cm tall, on a solid stalk with multiple cylindrical branches consisting of hollow tubes, sometimes swollen at their ends (oscula). In life the sponge is orange, yellow or pale tan. Branches are soft, rubbery but tough, often sticky. The whole sponge is flexible and lives in areas of high water current.

This species has been known affectionately in collections for the past several years as the “Bob Marley sponge” on account of its dreadlock-style growth form of knotted and branching tubes. It was only recently described, however, as belonging to the sponge (Porifera) family Axinellidae as the type species of a new genus from the Great Barrier Reef.

It one of the most widely-distributed sponges along the length and breadth of the Great Barrier Reef, from the coast to the outer barrier reefs, from near Torres Strait to the southern most reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. It is relatively common in some areas but mostly restricted to deeper waters (15–20m on reefs), and only rarely above about 10m depth. Its range extends into Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands, with outlying populations in the Coral Sea territories, northwestern Australia and Vanuatu.

That it is a new genus and species, and is so common, tells us how much we still don’t know about even our shallow water marine fauna, let alone the deeper water fauna off our coast.
The new species is also noteworthy for containing an unusual tripeptide chemistry called the hemiasterlins (milnamide and geodiamolides) that were discovered to have high bioactive cytotoxicity and are now in preclinical development for cancer treatment.

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