Scientists Discover 30 Large Coral Atolls and 10 New Marine Species Deep in the Twilight Zone of the Coral Sea

FK200429 SOI Hollardia goslinei

A striking image of Hollardia goslinei. This is a species of deepwater spike fishes native to Hawaii. ROV footage of this species occurring in Australia puts it very far away from its known home range

Scientists for Australia’s Schmidt Ocean Institute spent most of lockdown exploring the deep ocean of the Coral Sea from the comfort of their homes.

A remote submarine working from the institute’s research vessel Falkor beamed back live 4k video images of previously unseen areas of the Coral Sea Marine Park down to depths of 1,600m.

The scientists back onshore have identified up to 10 new marine species of fish, snails, and sponges and mapped 30 large coral atolls and banks, revealing submarine canyons, dune fields, submerged reefs, and landslides.

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Osprey Reef is an atoll lying on the northwestern side of the Queensland Plateau within the Coral Sea Marine Park. Itis roughly oval in shape, measuring 25 by 12km and covers around 195 sq km

More than 35,500 square kilometres were mapped over 46 days in May and June – an area larger than half of Tasmania - as part of the global effort to map all the world’s oceans by 2030, so far less than 19 per cent has been covered.

Led by chief scientist Dr Robin Beaman of James Cook University, the expedition enabled the team to develop a better understanding of the physical and long-term changes that have occurred on the deep reefs.

FK200429 SOI 021517Z Crinoids Dive366

A variety of life - including sea stars, crinoids, sponges, and corals - perches on exposed strata surrounded by coral skeletons near Lihou Reef in the Coral Sea Marine Park

 

FK200429 SOI 033649Z Ctenophores Dive366

A  group of harp ctenophores (Lyrocteis imperatoris) on Lihou Reef in the Coral Sea Marine Park, at 358m. This is a species of benthic comb jellyfish. Unlike swimming pelagic comb jellies, it attaches itself to rocks and corals. To feed, their comb-like tentacles reach out from the tip of its body to catch floating zooplankton

FK200429 SOI 050707Z PumpkinStar Dive366

A variety of corals and a very rare astrosarkus (commonly called a pumpkin star) cling to a scarp face at 120 m  near Lihou Reef. Astrosarkus was only recently described in 2004 – thereby identifying a new genus and species

‘This expedition has provided us with a unique window into both the geological past and the present-day conditions, allowing scientists and park managers to be able to see and tell the full story of the interconnected environments,’ said Dr Beaman. ‘This vision is invaluable for science, management, and education.’

More than 91 hours of high-resolution video surveys were collected.

FK200429 SOI 23227Z FanCoral Dive362

The deepwater coral ecosystems  included steep walls dominated by azooxanthellate octocorals – fan corals

FK200429 SOI 42328Z BrittleOcto Dive365

Brittle stars on a deep-sea octocoral found on Tregrosse Reef, South Diamond Islet. Brittle stars and other creatures use corals to get above the seafloor and higher in the water column for better access to food

FK200429 SOI 43602Z Urchin Dive365

A beautiful urchin seen while diving the South Diamond Islet on the Queensland Plateau

No evidence of coral bleaching was seen below 80m.

‘We know that the shallower coral counterparts are currently undergoing their third mass bleaching event in five years, so it’s an invaluable insight for scientists and managers to know how deep that bleaching extends,’ said Dr Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. ‘It’s important to note, however, that the corals discovered are specialised to these deep habitats and are not found in the shallows. This expedition was the first time these species have been recorded in such high abundance in the Coral Sea.’

An example of the live video stream:

 

 

 

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