An epic 45-day voyage to discover new species and map marine ecosystems across Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories has sailed from Darwin.
The CSIRO research vessel, RV Investigator, will carry a team of scientists to map unexplored underwater regions and increase knowledge of marine ecosystems, as Australia investigates the possible establishment of a new Marine Protected Area covering up to 740,000 square kilometres.
Federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, said that scientists will collect data and information around the Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to better understand the underwater life there help manage them in the future.
Voyage will visit places never seen by humans
“This pioneering voyage will visit places never seen by humans before as it studies marine life in the proposed Australian IOT Marine Park area,” Ley explained. “This is an international marine treasure on Australia’s doorstep; one that is – from a scientific perspective – relatively undisturbed and undiscovered.
“Australian Marine Parks conserve and protect marine habitats and species while supporting sustainable social and economic use of the marine environment.”
The RV Investigator will also sail through three existing Australian Marine Parks – the Oceanic Shoals Marine Park, the Argo-Rowley Terrace Marine Park and the Abrolhos Marine Park – where it will map the Argo canyon and collect data.
Christian Porter, the Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, said scientists would conduct more than 200 biodiversity surveys during the voyage.
Some sample habitats are 5.5km below surface
“The research team will use a high-tech multi-beam sonar to map the structure of the seafloor, [as well as] cameras, nets and sleds to sample habitats from depths of 60m to depths well into the ‘midnight zone’ and beyond – at around 5.5 km below the surface,” Porter stated.
Voyage leader and veteran deep-sea researcher, Dr Tim O’Hara from Museums Victoria, said the outcomes of the voyage would provide baseline data and scientific outputs to help Parks Australia implement new Australian Marine Parks across the Indian Ocean Territories.
“This undersea world holds immense value to island communities and the Australian public,” Dr O’Hara said.
“The data gathered on this trip will provide greater understanding Australia’s deep-sea habitats, their biodiversity and the ecological processes that sustain them. This will be crucial in conservation and future management strategies, working towards protecting these isolated areas from the impacts of climate change, pollution and other human activity.”