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New corals found deep in the Great Barrier Reef

Scientists exploring the deepest regions of the Great Barrier Reef for the first time have discovered five new species of black corals and sponges. The team also observed an extremely rare fish that has never been documented in Australia.

The groundbreaking research was conducted by experts onboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute‘s research vessel Falkor. The team deployed an underwater robot to capture high-resolution video of the seafloor 1,820 meters deep.

The international collaboration involved a multidisciplinary team of scientists from Geoscience Australia, James Cook University, University of Sydney, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), Queensland Museum Network, and Queensland University of Technology.

The experts addressed many questions about the geological evolution and biology of the reefs and canyons across the deep seafloor.

“This included the most comprehensive midwater robotic dive survey series to ever have been conducted in the South Pacific,” said lead scientist Dr. Brendan Brooke. “Research vessel Falkor has integrated a range of technologies that have allowed us to work across the full range of ocean depths in the Coral Sea and to provide data for multiple disciplines including geology, biology, and oceanography.”

The researchers obtained samples of soft and scleractinian coral, as well as the first sample of ancient bedrock from beneath the Great Barrier Reef, which is estimated to be between 40 and 50 million years old. 

Scientists spotted the extremely rare Rhinopias agroliba, a colorful ambush predator in the scorpionfish family, and conducted the most comprehensive survey of midwater jellyfish that has ever been carried out in the South Pacific.

The team also mapped the seafloor in high resolution across 38,395 square kilometers.

“These maps, samples, and images are fascinating and provide a new understanding of the geological diversity and biological wealth of a region that is already world-renowned for its natural beauty,” said Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “The data will help marine park managers to protect these ecosystems that are so vital for our global biodiversity and human health. “

The experts live streamed the underwater robotic dives and 112 hours of high definition underwater video during the month-long expedition to the Great Barrier Reef, which ended August 30, on the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s YouTube channel.

“Schmidt Ocean Institute and the technology that it has brought to Australia is a huge enabler in better understanding our marine resources from a lens of diverse disciplines,” said Dr. Scott Nichol. “This work brings new understanding and will keep the scientists busy for years.”

The research was funded by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, Geoscience Australia, James Cook University, the University of Sydney, JAMSTEC, and Queensland Museum.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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