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The challenge

Discovering the Great Australian Bight

The Great Australian Bight is a unique environment that is home to a variety of iconic marine species and supports Australia's largest commercial fishery for southern bluefin tuna.

A wandering Albatross, Diomedia exulans flying over ocean waves.

The area also houses an abundance of marine resources and wealth which can be realised for the benefit of all Australians.

More than 85 per cent of known species in the region are found nowhere else in the world. However, until now, relatively little was known about this vast body of water and how it supports such diverse marine life. We have to know what is there and understand how the ocean system works to be able to predict and measure any environmental impact resulting from development.

Our response

The Great Australian Bight research program

Through a $20 million, four-year project, we conducted studies to transform the deep ecosystems of the Great Australian Bight from one of Australia's least studied environments to one of the most well-known, to improve our understanding of the environmental, economic and social value of the Great Australian Bight.

Conducted from 2013-2017, the project brought together multidisciplinary research teams comprising more than 100 scientists and technical staff.

New scientific knowledge has been developed for:

  • Improved understanding of the oceans processes underpinning the ecosystem.
  • New insights into what drives productivity in the open ocean.
  • Greater awareness of the region's biodiversity, especially in the deep ocean beyond the continental shelf.
  • Identification of at least 277 species that are new to science, and 887 species not previously reported in the Great Australian Bight.
  • Improved understanding of the biology and ecology of the region's marine mammals, seabirds and sharks.
  • Improved understanding of the migratory and foraging patterns of southern bluefin tuna.
  • Collation of historical information on seismic activity in the Great Australian Bight.
  • Confirmation of oil and gas characteristics in the Great Australian Bight.
  • Improved understanding of the values and priorities of people living in the Great Australian Bight's coastal townships.

This Program has provided new scientific tools and a benchmark for future scientific studies, monitoring programs and management advice.

The results have been provided for the benefit of stakeholders, such as Commonwealth and state regulators and governments, and a diverse range of research, community and environmental groups.

The Great Australian Bight Research Program 2013 - 2017 final report PDF (3 MB)

Check out this video of our researchers collecting samples in the Great Australian Bight.

[text on screen: CSIRO, BP and Marine Innovation Southern Australia Science collaboration – first voyage]

Voice over:

Hello, I'm Mark Lewis, I'm an equipment specialist for a research group at CSIRO.

On this voyage, which we happen to have particularly nice weather for, we a looking at hydrocarbons and the animals that live on the sea floor.

And here comes the CTD full of water samples. The little unit on the side is for collecting current data as well, as it goes up and down through the water column.

Here is the hydro chemist taking some water samples out of the unit. Carefully flushing out the little bottle to make sure the sample is going to be pure.

Geoff Cordell driving the winch that controls the instrumented corer platform.

And here it comes back up after a successful launch on the sea floor. It's been down about 2000 metres to collect samples for us.

And here is one of the samples. A beautiful core from about 2000 metres. He's capping it off to bring it inside for processing.

And here they are extracting micro-cores from the soft 15 centimetres and the rest of that layer will be sieved for the other little animals, we won't waste anything out of this platform.

Here is the surface net going over the side. It's for collecting plankton and everything else that gets in its way, so jelly fish, small fish even some flying fish

Another beautiful day out at sea.

The idea is for the net to just skim along the surface of the water, just collecting surface plankton.

The net is working beautifully there.

CSIRO researchers collecting samples in the Great Australian Bight

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