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YEAR OF THE SALPS
Making Salps Count
Welcome to the Salps app! A citizen science project where you can help scientists study and monitor the health of the New Zealand salp population.
About this appThis app was created to engage the New Zealand children and public in a citizen science project, that can enhance our understanding of salp blooms, as well as help monitor our coastal ecosystems in the era of global climate change. This project is carried out in collaboration with a Marsden-funded NIWA project to investigate salp bloom effects on the environment.
Why should you participate?We know salps are important in New Zealand because ocean swimmers, divers, and surfers tell us they find them regularly. However, we have no systematic data to be able to know where, how often, in which months, or in which years they were important. That’s where you can help. By contributing your observation, photo, and scale number to help us estimate salp density, you will be contributing to our knowledge of when, and where, salps bloom in New Zealand waters. As the oceans warm and the biological patterns change, you will be helping us understand one major biogeochemical pathway in the ocean.
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CreditsThis project is co-developed by Auckland University of Technology's AppLab and NIWA, in partnership with The University of Auckland's Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre, Leigh School, Goat Island Dive & Snorkel, and kindly funded by Unlocking Curious Minds fund, and co-funded by Marsden Fund.
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A brief introduction
Salps are gelatinous, barrel-shaped animals that can sometimes dominate the zooplankton (‘animal-like’ plankton) communities, especially around New Zealand and eastern Australia. They eat and swim continuously, by combining their swimming with their feeding motion, using rhythmic muscular contractions that produce a current across a feeding filter. Because of this combined feeding/swimming motion, salps are able to filter lots of seawater. In fact, we have a nickname for salps - we call them the ‘ocean vacuum-cleaners’, because they clear everything in their path.
Salps can eat so much phytoplankton that they can poop constantly. And their poop is very heavy. Because of this, salps can play an important role in carbon export. Their poop can sink thousands of metres into the deep ocean, where it feeds the critters of the deep. Their poop also delivers carbon to deep waters, where it can be remineralized but because it is so deep - this carbon is out of contact with the atmosphere for the next one thousand years, and no longer contributes to global warming.
The life-cycle of salps is quite interesting. They alternate between an ‘asexual’ phase (where they are neither girls or boys) and a ‘sexual’ phase (where they are first girls then boys). In the asexual phase they are solitary, and we call them ‘oozooids’. In the sexual phase, the solitary individuals bud off chains of salps, called ‘blastozooids’, that will get fertilized and produce one embryo, then become boys to fertilize other salps and fulfil the life-cycle. With this way of reproducing, salps can have huge population growth, they form what we call salp ‘blooms’, because each chain can have hundreds of zooids, and they can produce up to one chain per day. That means they can turn the ocean to jelly soup in just a few days!
What is a salp?
Why are salps important?
Salps can eat a lot and poop a lot. When they form blooms, they can eat most of the phytoplankton in the water, and this sends a lot of carbon down to the deep ocean, in the form of their poop. We don’t know how often salps form these blooms, for how long, the extent of these, how much carbon gets sequestered to depth, or to what depth this carbon gets pumped.
At NIWA, we are increasing our understanding of these salp-mediated biological processes by going to sea on R.V. Tangaroa to study them (https://www.niwa.co.nz/our-science/voyages/tan1810-ocean-vacuum-cleaner). We investigated how phytoplankton growth and grazing were related to salp bloom, how deep their poop sinks and how that relates to the species of salps and the different water masses they inhabited. We studied a lot of their ecology and biology. However, we still don’t know how often and where these blooms occur. And given anecdotal information, we think these blooms might be increasing. This is why it is crucial to study these organisms, and to monitor the place and frequency of their blooms.
Do salps sting?
No, salps are primarily herbivorous zooplankton that feed by filtering large amounts of water. They do not have stingers, so they can’t sting you.