“Deep-Sea Corals Discovered Off South-Western Australia” by Steve Reynolds
This second “Science Story of the Month” comes from the SDFSA April 2020 newsletter.
Deep-Sea Corals Discovered Off South-Western Australia
Deep-Sea Corals have been discovered off South-Western Australia by using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called “SuBastian”. The ROV belongs to the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s (SOI). Scientists, including researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA), discovered the corals in the Bremer Canyon Marine Park off southwestern Australia during an oceanographic expedition.
The Bremer Canyon faces the Southern Ocean and it is said to provide important information on the recent and past histories of climate change and ocean conditions in this region, as well as global scale events.
SuBastian (the SOI’s deep-sea ROV) is capable of sampling depths down to 4500m. With the ROV’s help, the research team collected coral, fauna, seawater, and geological samples from depths of between 200 and (almost) 4000 metres. (200m is the depth of the continental shelf, whilst 4000m is referred to as the ‘abyssal depths’.)
Julie Trotter, the Chief Scientist from UWA, led the oceanographic expedition. “We have already made a number of remarkable discoveries from the Bremer Canyon,” she said. “The vertical cliffs and ridges support a stunning array of deep-sea corals that often host a range of organisms and form numerous mini-ecosystems.”
The new discoveries are “being integrated into a comprehensive package of biological, geological, and bathymetric data”. The Schmidt Ocean Institute said, “Such rare records of these deep-sea habitats are a new and very important contribution to the Marine Parks, which will help managers as well as the broader community to better understand and protect these previously unknown ecosystems.”
The deep waters that surround Australia are largely unexplored. The Bremer, Leeuwin, and Perth canyons were all explored by the expedition. They all have extensive fossil coral deposits. The Leeuwin Canyon is especially notable for a massive pedestal-like coral graveyard.
Professor Malcolm McCulloch from UWA said, “This has global implications given these waters originate from around Antarctica, which feed all of the major oceans and regulate our climate system.”
(A team of scientists is now sailing into the deep waters of WA’s Coral Coast – see https://10play.com.au/news/perth/scientists-to-explore-depths-of-was-coral-coast/tpv200307ksxrm.)