Tasmanian researchers discover new corals in dense ‘underwater garden’ on ocean mountains
An “underwater garden” with more than 100 unnamed species of corals, lobsters and molluscs has been discovered on undersea mountains south of Tasmania.
Scientists onboard the CSIRO research vessel Investigator have explored the Tasmanian cluster of the ridges known as seamounts in Australia’s Tasman Fracture and Huon marine parks.
The researchers surveyed 45 seamounts using new technology to study the rocky habitats.
Brittlestar coral recovered in the latest expedition to undersea mountains. (Supplied: CSIRO/Karen Gowlett-Holmes)
Nic Bax from the Marine Biodiversity Hub at the University of Tasmania said there were more than 100 seamounts in the region.
“People often say we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the deep sea,” Professor Bax said.
“Some of these parts have never been seen before and people might never see it again.”
Voyage chief scientist Alan Williams from CSIRO said the researchers used a high-tech camera system two metres above the seafloor in depths to nearly two kilometres.
“We have collected a huge body of data on the animals that live on seamounts, how their communities change with depth, and have a much more complete picture of what lives on habitats adjacent to the seamounts,” he said.
“Our detailed sampling was on seamounts that were previously impacted by bottom fishing, but have been protected since, for more than 20 years.
“Whilst we saw no evidence that the coral communities are recovering, there were signs that some individual species of corals, featherstars and urchins have re-established a foothold.”
The deep-tow camera revealed dense coral reefs, and marine life including bioluminescent squids, ghost sharks, deep-water sharks, rays, orange roughy, oreos and basketwork eels.
Ms Moore had the honour of naming this discovery purple coral. (Supplied: CSIRO/Bethany Green)
Collection Manager at Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Kirrily Moore said she had the honour of naming a new Tasmanian species of coral.
“Previously it hadn’t been noticed anywhere else in the world. We saw it here and collected it and I was lucky enough to be able to give it a name,” she said.
“We call it the purple coral. It’s a soft coral which means it’s in a group that’s different from a coral that you’d see in a tropical reef.”
Ms Moore said there was a process to naming a new species.
“It’s a dying art, well a dying science,” she said.
“If you’re sure that it hasn’t already got a name then you have to take pictures of it and describe it and officially publish it in a journal.
“There are not too many rules about what names you can use, but it’s frowned upon to name it after yourself.”
CSIRO research vessel Investigator carried the team to the area. (Supplied: CSIRO/Owen Foley)