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Check Out This Trippy Trove Of Deep-Sea Creatures Scientists Just Discovered Off The Coast Of Tasmania

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Madison Dapcevich

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Madison Dapcevich

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

Madison is a freelance science reporter and full-time fact-checker based in the wild Rocky Mountains of western Montana.

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

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A Eunicidae polycahaete worm on Solenosmilia coral. CSIRO

Off the southern coast of Tasmania lies an underwater range of mountains home to a plethora of mysterious deep-sea creatures previously made vulnerable by bottom fishing. After having been protected for the last 20 years, many of these marine animals are making a comeback and, naturally, scientists are apt to study them.

As part of a four-week survey of the deep-sea ecosystem, researchers have found new areas of unmapped deep-sea coral and discovered more than 100 unnamed species of lobsters, corals, and mollusks.

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“We ‘flew’ our high-tech camera system two meters above the seafloor in depths to 1,900 meters [6,200], collecting 60,000 stereo images and some 300 hours of video for analysis,” said voyage chief scientist Alan Williams in a statement. “While it will take months to fully analyze the coral distributions, we have already seen healthy deep-sea coral communities on many smaller seafloor hills and raised ridges away from the seamounts, to depths of 1450 meters [4,700].”

Gorgonocephalidae

Williams said his team's findings indicate there is more of this important coral reef living in the marine parks than previously believed. A camera connected to a submersible allowed scientists aboard the research vessel Investigator to view in real-time the hundreds of other animals found, including feathery soft corals and tulip-shaped glass sponges in colors ranging from delicate creams to striking purple and bright gold. Notably, researchers recorded mutually beneficial relationships between many of the specimens collected, particularly among invertebrates and coral; brittle stars were seen curling around the coral while worms tunneled inside it. Also spotted were bioluminescent squids, ghost sharks, and basketwork eels near the seafloor.

 

 

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“We now have a huge body of data on the animals that live on seamounts and how their communities change with depth, and have a much broader picture of what lives on habitats adjacent to the seamounts,” Williams said, adding that his team has now identified the precise depth range in which diverse deep-sea coral thrive. “On the larger seamounts, which peak in 1,000 to 1,250 meters [3,280-4,100] below the sea surface, corals dominate the top 100 to 200 meters.”

Though individual species of coral, feather stars, and urchins were observed re-establishing a presence in the marine parks, there is no evidence to suggest the coral communities are recovering. Deep-sea coral are different from their shallow cousins – fragile and slow-growing, these species prefer living in a cold environment void of sunlight or symbiotic algae.

A rock crab (Neolithodes-cf-bronwynae). Fraser Johnston CSIRO
A blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) CSIRO
Brittle star on coral.
Calyptrophora octocoral. CSIRO
Calyptrophora octocoral with brittlestar. CSIRO
A deepwater hippolytid shrimp with a large hooked claw to clean coral and get food. CSIRO
Hermit crab Parapagurus-richeri. CSIRO
Gorgonocephalidae brittlestar. CSIRO
Mollusc medley. Simon Grove/CSIRO
Slender cod, deepwater eel, slickheads, lizardfish, and rattails. Thomas Schlacher/CSIRO
Tiny corals erupt from a mollusk shell. Fraser Johnston/CSIRO
Uroptychus

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  • tag
  • tasmania,

  • deep sea creatures,

  • r/v investigator,

  • deep-sea coral reef

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