A surprisingly rich diversity of marine algae (seaweeds) has been found for the Dhofar coast of Oman. Adding to this is a new species of red seaweed recently described by Michael Wynne of the University of Michigan, namely, Martensia incipiens, which was collected at Sadah, east of Salalah. He describes the new species in the journal, Phytotaxa, published Oct. 2, 2019. Wynne is professor emeritus of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and curator emeritus of the U-M Herbarium

Mike Wynne holding a large specimen of an Omani seaweed in 2000.

Field notes made when the new species was collected noted its brilliant iridescent colors ranging from pink to lilac in the living condition. The description of this new species brings the total to 18 new species described by Wynne from the Dhofar coast. That total includes not only red algae but also green and brown algae.

Based on initial work from the 1980s when a group from the University of York, U.K., carried out ecological studies on the kelp communities of southern Oman, more attention to identifying the algal flora was needed. The Algal Biodiversity Project of Oman was funded by a British Government “Darwin Initiative” grant (1999-2002). The project involved the Natural History Museum of Oman along with the University of Michigan Herbarium (USA) and the British Natural History Museum, London. Initial results of this project were reported from 1999 to 2008.

In 2018, Wynne published a checklist of the seaweeds of the Northern Arabian Sea coast of Oman, in which a total of 402 species of brown, green, and red algae were presented. That stretch of coastline is impacted by the seasonal monsoon, the “khareef”, when constant winds cause strong wave action, upwelling, higher nutrient levels and colder water temperatures. An additional factor is that the continental shelf is relatively narrow in the region between Mirbat and Sadah, and thus the oceanic conditions are even more pronounced

According to Wynne, it is worth noting that many of the Omani new species are conspicuously large, that is, much larger than other known species in their genera. These include Champia gigantea, Leveillea major, Bryopsis robusta [names reflecting their larger sizes], Chrysymenia tigillum, Dipterocladia arabiensis, and Centroceras secundum. Another robust and common new species is Gelidium omanense, in a genus that is a significant source of agar, a valuable phycocolloid. In addition to discovering new species in Oman, Wynne also described two new genera, a higher classification of algae. So far these two new genera are known only from Oman. These are Pseudogrinnellia barrattiae, the species named for the collector, Lynne Barratt of Hunting Aquatic Resources, York, U.K. The other new genus is Stirnia prolifera, which honors Dr. Joze Stirn, formerly of the Dept. of Fisheries Science and Technology, Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, who provided many of the collections. According to Wynne, the wave-buffeted shores of southern Oman are an amazingly rich source of seaweed diversity, one that deserves further attention.