26 September 2023

PS scientists sail into the unknown

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A team of scientists led by Museums Victoria Research Institute have embarked on a deep sea research voyage in the remote waters of Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, north-west of Australia.

Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates at the Institute, Tim O’Hare said the team were exploring vast, prehistoric undersea mountains and undiscovered animal inhabitants at depths of more than 5,500 metres below the surface.

Dr O’Hare, who is also the Chief Scientist of the voyage, said the 35-day excursion on the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) research vessel Investigator would complete a research project that commenced in 2021 with the first biodiversity survey of the remote waters.

“Scientists expect to discover many new deep-sea species, and outcomes of the voyage will provide scientific data and information to support the management of new marine parks in Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories,” Dr O’Hare said.

“These parks will help protect an area of up to 740,000 square kilometres,” he said.

“We are really excited about the prospect of discovering new species, perhaps even new branches of the tree of life, which until now have remained hidden beneath the waves in this unexplored region.”

Dr O’Hare said a series of ancient underwater mountains and ridges surrounded the islands of Christmas and Cocos (Keeling), none of which had been seen before.

“We have no maps of them and no knowledge of what lives there,” he said, “and this voyage will provide world-first baseline data of these unknown marine environments and their inhabitants.”

“The research team will use high-tech multi-beam sonar to map the structure of the seafloor, and cameras, nets and sleds to sample habitats from 60 metres all the way down to 5500 metre depths,” the Chief Scientist said.

“The voyage will result in the description of new species from specimens added to the Museums Victoria State Collection and other national biological collections.”

Dr O’Hare said research, led by Museums Victoria Research Institute, was being conducted in partnership with CSIRO, Parks Australia, Bush Blitz and a team of partner museums and universities.

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