There isn’t a more famous reef in the world than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of the Northern state of Queensland. The iconic GBR is the focus of much of the world’s marine conservation activity, including recent debates by UNESCO regarding whether it should officially be labelled ‘in danger’ or not – a highly political issue for the South Pacific nation.
However, new discoveries in the 15,550ha Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park, in the state of Victoria, mean that the GBR may have to get used to sharing the spotlight.
At previously unexplorable depths, a specialised Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) was used by park scientists to explore areas of 30 to 100m below the sea surface, locating what Steffan Howe, Parks Victoria Marine Science Manager, described as ‘spectacular marine life’.
‘The discoveries follow previous research that mapped the park’s sea floor in detail,’ said Howe. ‘The maps identified some amazing underwater structures very deep beneath the ocean, but we did not know what sort of marine life was there.’
The use of the ROV enabled a wide collection of images to be gathered from the depths of the marine park. They revealed a complex underwater dune system, including one dune 30m high and 2km long, as well as marine life in the form of large coral fans, sea whips and colourful sponge gardens. The images also show a wide array of walls, house-sized boulders, ridges and caverns with a diverse range of colourful sponges, hard and soft corals and abundant fish life, including some up to 80cm long.
‘The resulting footage shows that the deep reef habitats are teeming with life and are home to rich and abundant marine ecosystems that are comparable to Australia’s better-known tropical reef areas,’ continued Howe. ‘The extent and abundance of spectacular sponge gardens and corals is a particularly exciting find. The discoveries and footage will enable us to showcase Victoria’s spectacular marine environment to the thousands of visitors who come to this park each year.’