Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Annika’s Ocean Beach find as rare as rubies

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Annika with seadragon
Annika Engstrom’s discovery of a rare ruby seadragon has drawn the attention of the WA Museum.
Photo: Serena Kirby

Serena Kirby, Denmark Bulletin

A rare specimen of a ruby seadragon, found washed up at Ocean Beach, has piqued the interest of experts at the WA Museum.

The pristine body of the seadragon was the lucky find of Annika Engstrom who regularly walks the beach picking up rubbish and plastics.

Annika spotted something colourful on the sand directly in front of the Denmark Surf Club and thought it was a seahorse.

On holding it up for inspection she caught the eye of Bernie Wong who was on lifeguard patrol and who instantly recognised it as a ruby seadragon having seen it on the news several years ago.

“Bernie’s jaw was literally dropping,” Annika said.

“Had it not been for Bernie I wouldn’t have known the importance of my find.

“He instantly looked it up on the internet and when we compared it with photos from the WA Museum, it was a perfect match.”

The ruby seadragon was only identified as a new seadragon species in 2017 by the WA Museum’s marine molecular biologist, Dr Nerida Wilson.

Distinguishable by its unusual bright red colouring, Phyllopteryx dewysea is only the third species of seadragon ever recorded in the world.

The 2017 discovery made international headlines and sparked worldwide interest.

Realising the significance of her find, Annika emailed the WA Museum a quick photo of her find and the reply was almost instant.

Ruby seadragon
Photo: Serena Kirby

“Dr Wilson was really excited and confirmed it was a ruby seadragon.

“She’s coming to Denmark in a couple of weeks to take a tissue sample for genetic studies and to discuss if I’ll donate it to the museum.

“I work in education so if my little find can be used for research and education I’ll probably donate it.”

As the ruby seadragon’s habitat is deep water areas off WA’s southern coast, only one ruby seadragon has ever been captured on film and fresh intact specimens, like that found by Annika, are incredibly rare.

Annika is now following the Museum’s instructions and keeping ‘Ruby’ safely packed away in the freezer until Dr Wilson’s arrival.

Denmark Bulletin 10 March 2022

This article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 10 March 2022.

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