Seapens on soft sediment offshore from Port Clinton, with a tiger prawn.

Seapens on soft sediment offshore from Port Clinton, with a tiger prawn.

Snapshot of life deep in the Great Barrier Reef

Reference: 06/35

Scientists have begun compiling a rich picture of seabed life across the length and breadth of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, after more than 300 days at sea.

  • 23 February 2006

After more than 300 days at sea, scientists have begun compiling a rich picture of seabed life across the length and breadth of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

They are processing 15 000 plant and animal samples, 2 000 sediment samples, 2 200 hours of video footage and 140 gigabytes of echo-sounder data from almost 1 400 sites on the continental shelf.

This vast, underwater snapshot has been gathered during 10 voyages by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPI&F) research vessel, Gwendoline May, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) vessel, Lady Basten.

It will form the basis of maps, databases and management tools to help marine resource managers conserve important habitats and biodiversity and ensure that fisheries are ecologically sustainable.

‘This has been the most intensive scientific exploration of the lesser known, deeper seabed of the world’s largest marine protected area,’ principal investigator Dr Roland Pitcher of CSIRO says.

‘With the fieldwork completed, we’re now identifying the diverse animal and plant samples and processing video footage and acoustic data.

‘Although only part way through this task, we have already seen nearly 6 000 types of organisms including new records for Australia and some new species that may be unique to the Great Barrier Reef.’

Some 50 scientists and technicians from four research agencies have contributed skills in biology, ecology, geology, physics and mathematics to the Great Barrier Reef Seabed Biodiversity Project.

‘The scale of this project is unprecedented worldwide and reinforces Australia’s role as leader in tropical marine science,’ CRC Reef program leader Professor Peter Doherty of AIMS says.

‘The project demonstrates the benefits of collaboration for Australian marine science. The arduous fieldwork, completed in just two years, could never have been achieved by one agency working alone.’

The Great Barrier Reef Seabed Biodiversity Project is funded by CRC Reef, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Department of Environment and Heritage, through the National Oceans Office. These agencies provided additional funds to support an extra voyage by both vessels and ensured the coverage of the surveys was complete.

The project is co-funded by AIMS, CSIRO, QDPI&F and the Queensland Museum, and is affiliated with the global Census of Marine Life.