Earlier in the year, the Australian scientific authority, CSIRO, announced the discovery of a new range of seamounts that could also be dormant volcanos. These intriguing features of the seabed were found to be valuable places for marine life to live, to meet and navigate. However, the Tasmanian sea floor also has other, more established seamounts. They are associated with coral-dominated environments, in which many other types of sea creatures may have evolved to survive among them.
Deep(est) Sea Diving – With Robots!
Recently, CSIRO sent a modern form of diving robot down to these seamounts in order to record the organisms and to categorize new specimens in some cases. This project has resulted in some striking images of these marine animals, mostly cephalopods and crustaceans. Some of them have interesting forms and features not seen often elsewhere on Earth, and are an indication of how the coral may have influenced their evolution.
The CSIRO mission also turned up some lesser-spotted, yet well-known, types of fish. These even included the famous blobfish, which does indeed look like a lump of jelly with a pair of rather mournful eyes. Greater and lesser brittle stars (Gorgonocephalidae and Calyptrophora octocoral, respectively), rock crabs (Neolithodes bronwynae) and polychaete worms (Eunicidae) were also found and were discovered to act in unique ways so as to live amongst the coral.
In all, the project turned up about 60,000 images and about 300 hours’ worth of video footage.
The research team found blobfish. (Source: James Joel/Flickr)
They were captured by the deep-sea drone that CSIRO was able to deploy on the mission to the Tasmanian seamount system. The robot was capable of diving about 6,200 feet below sea level to capture footage, which helped the scientists operating to observe and analyze the coral environment and the behavior of the creatures that live in it, in greater detail than ever before.
On the other hand, this protocol resulted in such an in-depth look at only about 45% of the seamounts. Therefore, CSIRO may have to take the drone back for more of the same, in the future.
New Species Discovered Amongst the Coral
However, this voyage generated more than enough valuable data and insights for CSIRO. It helped the Australian scientists to discover new species, some of which have impressive looks and attributes.
Take the new type of squat lobster (Uroptychus litosus): its extra-long, specialized claws can stretch straight outwards to nearly four times the length of its body. This part of the creature is indeed far shorter and stouter than the average specimen of the same name. The hat-maker crab may have been so named as its unusually fine, thin claws and legs look built for that purpose.
A subtype of squat lobster was also discovered as part of the study. (Source: Des Colhoun/Geograph.org.uk)
The CSIRO team also found shrimp that, like the hermit crab, have one claw that is elongated and enlarged compared to the other. Unlike the crab, however, the shrimp has evolved in this way so as to have the perfect tool to pick its food off coral. For that matter, the team also found themselves some hermit crabs.
The scientists also collected data on animals that lived above the seafloor, and also on the surface above it. This list included birds and dolphins, which, as with the volcanic seamounts, use the area as an important landmark to meet and hunt every year.
Furthermore, the researchers observed other beings such as ghost sharks, basketwork eels and luminescent squid coming to play their parts in the diverse coral ecosystem.
It is now even more clear than ever how important this environment is, especially considering the decline of other similar coral systems elsewhere on Earth. To this end, the Tasmanian seamount area has been designated a protected Australian Marine Park, a status that prohibits most human intervention, with some exceptions including research missions, in the region.
More CSIRO Projects in the Future
Projects such as these could also help Australian authorities to reinforce the ability to conserve this marine park in the future. Alan Williams, the principal investigator on the latest mission, believes that there is scope for much more work in the area. “[It will] take months to fully analyze the coral distributions,” the lead scientist noted. “We have already seen healthy deep-sea coral communities on many smaller seafloor hills and raised ridges away from the seamounts, to depths of 1,450 meters".
Therefore, this voyage could be counted a comprehensive success. Besides this, CSIRO had planned trips to the newer system of volcanic seamounts in November. Hopefully, all this ongoing and future research will gain us many more images of fantastic sea-beasts in the coming years.
Top Image: The CSIRO mission found impressively large brittlestars living amongst the deep-sea Tasmanian coral. (Source: NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research/Flickr)
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