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