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30 September 2022 Partner Release

Investigating the Indian Ocean Territories (IOT) is a 35 day, 13,000km voyage on CSIRO research vessel (RV) Investigator which will depart from Darwin today (30 September 2022). Operated by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, RV Investigator will voyage through the remote waters of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to conduct deep-ocean surveys of life at abyssal depths more than 5500 metres below the surface. 

Led by Museums Victoria Research Institute, in collaboration with CSIRO, Parks Australia, Bush Blitz and a team of partner museums and universities, this voyage completes a research project that commenced in 2021 with the first biodiversity survey of these remote waters by RV Investigator

Scientists expect to discover many new deep-sea species, and outcomes of the voyage will provide scientific data and information to support the management of new marine parks in Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories. Announced last year, these parks will help protect an area of up to 740,000 square kilometres.

Voyage Chief Scientist Dr Tim O’Hara, Museums Victoria Research Institute’s senior curator of marine invertebrates, is a veteran deep-sea researcher. He explains that while there are not too many places in Australia that are totally unexplored, we know almost nothing about the vast underwater mountains and ridges surrounding the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. 

"We know the region is covered with massive seamounts formed during the dinosaur era and we know the region sits at a critical juncture between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. We are really excited about the prospect of discovering new species, perhaps even new branches of the tree of life, which until now have remained hidden beneath the waves in this unexplored region," explains Dr O’Hara.

"Surrounding the islands of Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) are a series of ancient underwater mountains and ridges - extinct volcanos which formed 140-50 million years ago.  No one has seen these isolated areas before, we have no maps of them and no knowledge of what lives there, and this voyage will provide world-first baseline data of these unknown marine environments and their inhabitants."

The research team will use high-tech multi-beam sonar to map the structure of the seafloor, and cameras, nets and sleds to sample habitats from 60 metres all the way down to 5500 metre depths. The voyage will result in the description of new species from specimens added to the Museums Victoria State Collection and other national biological collections.

Director and CEO of Museums Victoria, Lynley Crosswell, said that the undersea world of the Indian Ocean Territories holds immense value to island communities and the Australian public.  

"The research outcomes from this voyage will be invaluable to our understanding of Australia’s deep-sea environments and the impact humans are having on them. This type of field activity by Museums Victoria Research Institute, delivered in collaboration with our partner organisations, is enormously important to protecting our unique biodiversity and creating sustainable futures."

Director of the CSIRO Marine National Facility, Toni Moate, said the voyage demonstrates the important research that RV Investigator delivers to help Australia better manage its marine resources and environment.

"The important collaborative research we help deliver continues on this epic voyage to study marine life around these remote tropical islands, with untold discoveries to be made in this ancient deep sea environment, information vital for managing the IOT marine parks," said Ms Moate.

Parks Australia Acting Director of National Parks, Jody Swirepik, said the voyage includes an outreach team from Bush Blitz. 

"Known for biodiversity surveys on land, Bush Blitz will be onboard to conduct their completely underwater survey. They will share discoveries with school groups and the general public along the way," Ms Swirepik said. 

The voyage will involve collaboration between some of Australia’s most renowned deep-sea scientists and research institutions including Museums Victoria Research Institute, CSIRO, Australian National Fish Collection, Australian Museum and Western Australian Museum. The research has been made possible through a grant of sea time on RV Investigator from the CSIRO Marine National Facility.

RV Investigator will set sail from Darwin on 30 September 2022 to travel to Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Island Territories before returning to Fremantle (Western Australia) on 3 November 2022.

Quote attributable to Dr Tim O’Hara Chief Scientist and Senior Curator, Marine Invertebrates at Museums Victoria:

"The data gathered on this trip will provide greater understanding of Australia’s deep-sea habitats, their biodiversity and the ecological processes that sustain them. This will be crucial in conservation and future management strategies, working towards protecting these isolated areas from the impacts of climate change, pollution and other human activity," says Dr O’Hara. 

Quote attributable to Toni Moate, Director of the CSIRO Marine National Facility:

"The great range of research capabilities offered by RV Investigator will again be on show during this voyage with scientific data collected both above and below the waves of the Indian Ocean, from high into the atmosphere all the way down to abyssal depths of more than 5000 metres. These data will be vital for increasing our understanding of this remote and important region of Australia’s ocean territory," says Ms Moate.

Quote attributable to Jody Swirepik, Acting Director of National Parks, Parks Australia:

"On its way to the Indian Ocean Territories, the RV Investigator will be transiting through three relatively unexplored Australian Marine Parks – the Oceanic Shoals Marine Park, the Argo-Rowley Marine Park. Finally on the way home, the voyage will map and travel through the Abrolhos Marine Park."

"The voyage will provide valuable insights into the remote and pristine waters of the Indian Ocean Territories as we take steps to manage new marine parks in the area in collaboration with local communities and other stakeholders."

Interviews, images, video interviews, vision and further information are available. 

Video interviews are available with:

  • Dr Tim O’Hara, Chief Scientist and Senior Curator, Museums Victoria Research Institute
  • Allyn White, IOT Taskforce, Parks Australia

Download the Museums Victoria media kit (via Dropbox)

This media release was originally published by Museums Victoria.

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