A robotic research ship is helping researchers better understand the deep-water Coral Sea reefs off the north east coast of Australia, uncovering unexpected secrets.
The ship has been mapping 35,554 square kilometres of sea floor that connects the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef to the Pacific Ocean, undertaking 14 dives to map every reef on the Queensland plateau. The mission has already made new discoveries off the coast including four drowned reefs and a network of submarine canyons, but it’s only fortuitous circumstances that led to the mission going ahead.
The ship in question is the R/V Falkor, an oceanographic research ship owned by non-profit research organisation Shmidt Ocean Institute. It happened to be on the north coast of Australia preparing to embark on research missions in Papua New Guinea when the global coronavirus pandemic struck, leaving it without much to do.
The Shmidt Ocean Institute reached out to James Cook University marine geologist Dr. Robin Beaman and his group of ocean researchers to see if there were any projects in the works they could help with. With only limited parts of these reefs mapped previously, Dr. Beaman jumped at the opportunity.
"The Moon is 100 per cent mapped, but here on Earth we probably only have about 20 per cent of the deep oceans mapped with any detail," Dr Beaman told ABC News.
As the ship began gathering pictures from the depths of the seafloor they were broadcast live on social media for other scientists to analyse. The “fish army”, as Dr Beaman described them, have helped to identify new species of coral reef fish through the livestream.
By mapping these deeper areas of the Coral Sea, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the ecological value contained in the region. This will enable more targeted conservation projects.
- Find out more about the Shmidt Ocean Institute and how the institute works to advance global marine research.
- Plastic pollution poses a significant threat to marine life if allowed to enter the ocean. Be sure to dispose of waste responsibly and check RecyclingNearYou for local recycling options.
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