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Near space is much better known than our oceans. Although it covers nearly three-quarters of our planet, only 10% has been accurately mapped. Scientists recently led an unprecedented expedition to discover the depths of two new Australian marine parks. They discovered animals that were scary, frightening, but all adapted to survival in extreme conditions. A better understanding of this ecosystem, which has remained hidden and preserved for so long, will make it possible to better preserve it from human activities.
The ocean is the lifeblood of the Earth, it covers over 70% of the planet’s surface, determines the weather, the climate, regulates the temperature and supports all living organisms and the production of oxygen. Throughout history, the ocean has been a vital source of livelihood, transportation, trade, growth, and inspiration.
Yet despite this dependence on the ocean, over 80% remain unexplored and unexplored. Indeed, given the high degree of difficulty and cost of exploring the oceans using underwater vehicles, researchers have long relied on technologies such as sonar to generate seafloor maps. Currently, less than 10% of the world’s oceans are being explored and mapped using modern sonar technology.
You should know that the five major ocean basins – Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic and Southern – contain 94% of the world’s fauna and 97% of all the planet’s water, according to UNESCO. Since the abyssal depths are unexplored, so are the creatures within.
Thus, in October 2022, a group of researchers from the Museum Victoria Research Institute conducted a groundbreaking research trip to the Indian Ocean territories, exploring the remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Their many discoveries of fantastic marine animals have been fueling the internet for a few days.
A journey into the unknown
The gaps in knowledge about the biodiversity values of the Australian Indian Ocean around the remote islands of Christmas Island and Cocos are immense. Certainly this marine environment is known for its iconic species such as whale sharks, turtles, manta rays, dolphins and a wide range of seabirds, but there are lesser known yet equally fascinating species, including locally evolved hybrid fish that result from the mixing of waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. The exploratory journey of Museum Victoria, through the two new marine parks created in March 2022, completes a first global survey on the marine biodiversity of the submarine mountains that make up these islands.
You should know that these seamounts mainly date back to the Upper Cretaceous – 65 to 80 million years ago – and may be home to ancient endemic communities. The marine habitats of seamounts are also easily damaged by human activities and this trip aimed to collect important data for their conservation and management.
A collection of spooky and wonderful species
After a 35-day 11,000km expedition, the research vessel Investigator operated by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, returned to port on November 3, 2022 with a large sample of previously unknown species. The life of the species in these deep waters is difficult due to the lack of light and the scarcity of prey.
It is for this reason that Dianne Bray, Senior Director of Collections at Museum Victoria, tells alAustralian broadcasting company that fish scientists can find in these waters are so terrifying and unique. She clarifies: They are capable of bioluminescence to attract prey, while hiding or camouflaging themselves in the depths of the sea. They often have oversized sensory organs, as well as large mouths with creepy teeth to make any meal worthwhile. “.
In concrete terms, it was an underwater video that revealed for the first time a diversity of marine life, fish hovering above the peaks of seamounts, samples of which were taken up to 5 kilometers below the surface.
Among these fascinating finds are two eels. The first is blind and was collected at a depth of about 5 km. It is covered with a loose, transparent and gelatinous skin. Its eyes are underdeveloped and, unusually for a fish, females give birth to live young.
The second is literally called the “strange pelican eel”, with a small head in front of its huge jaws and an extendable stomach so that it can swallow and swallow large foods. Pelican eels are covered in velvety black skin and have a slight organ on the tip of the tail to attract prey.
The researchers also discovered what they call deep-sea batfish. They roam the bottom of the sea on their arm-like fins. They have a small fishing lure in a small hollow on the snout to attract prey. They are part of the monkfish family.
In the same category, the Tribute Spiderfish has incredibly long lower fins with thickened tips, which it rests on like on stilts, giving it the perfect height to feed on small shrimp drifting in the current. .
There are also high-finned lizardfish. They are voracious deep-sea predators with mouths equipped with long, sharp teeth. They belong to a group of simultaneous hermaphroditic fish. They have an ovotestis with functional male and female reproductive tissues.
The voracious Sloane’s viper has huge fang-like teeth that are visible even when the mouth is closed. It has rows of light organs along the underside and a very long upper fin with lures on the tip to attract prey.
The Slender Snipe Eel, found up to 4km below the sea surface, has a long, wiry tail. It can reach one meter in length for only 50 grams. The curved, permanently open jaws are covered with tiny hooked teeth that hook the crustaceans.
Finally, scientists also revealed “pancake” sea urchins, which have a delicate skeleton that flattens out like a pancake when out of the water, but whose spines are poisonous.
Dr Tim O’Hara, scientific director of the expedition, of the Museum Victoria Research Institute, said: ” We have discovered an astonishing number of potentially new species living in this remote marine park “.
Accurately updated maps
The team also produced detailed three-dimensional images of the massive mountain beneath the Cocos Islands themselves, which have never been mapped in detail before.
Dr. Tim O’Hara points out: We broadcast these new 3D maps and underwater video images directly from the ship to the Cocos Islanders, who were delighted to see their seascape in all its glory. “.
Nelson Kuna, one of two hydrographers aboard the CSIRO, said that very little high-resolution mapping had been done in the Cocos Islands Marine Park prior to this trip.
VIDEO : Example of mapping of the Cocos Islands submarine mountains. © CSIRO
He adds: ” We used all of RV Investigator’s ocean depth mapping capabilities to fully examine the Cocos Islands, from coastal depths of less than 100m to the abyss of approximately 4800m below. “.
The dataset now covers a significant area of the new marine park and shows the Cocos Islands as ” twin peaks of a huge underwater mountain which rises almost 5000 meters from the surrounding seabed.
Museums Victoria CEO and the science team conclude in a press release: The research results of this expedition will be invaluable to our understanding of Australia’s underwater environments and the impact humans have on them. We are proud that our maps, data and images will be used by Parks Australia to manage the new marine park in the future “.