Scientists Discover Deep-Sea Coral Gardens in Mysterious Underwater Canyons

Scientists from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and those from the Institute of Polar Sciences in Italy have found stunning gardens of deep-sea corals in underwater canyons off the coast of southwestern Australia.

The researchers discovered the mysterious and hitherto unknown corals by using a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) at the Bremer underwater canyon. The biodiverse ecosystem opened up in the region teaches researchers lots of things about underwater organisms and geological fossils as well as the environmental factors that have impacted them for decades or even centuries.

UWA’s Julie Trotter, one of the researchers using another Falkor research vessel owned by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, said the underwater investigations were conducted over a month period at a depth of about 13,000 feet. The ROV collected geological fossils and biological samples and also took clear images of the deep-water coral ecosystems.

“We have already made a number of remarkable discoveries from the Bremer Canyon,” Julie Trotter said. “The vertical cliffs and ridges support a stunning array of deep-sea corals that often host a range of organisms and form numerous mini-ecosystems”.

One of the objectives of the scientists was to comb Bremer canyon, Leeuwin canyon, and Perth canyon among other underwater canyons in the southwest of Australia. The purpose of this was to collect fossil samples from corals and also obtain living organisms in deepwater habitats that can show scientists the underwater changes that have occurred over the years.

The researchers aimed to employ data such as ocean temperature, water pH, marine nutrients and other environmental records to reconstruct changes in deep-water coral habitats. These marine changes would reflect how the oceans respond to stresses that are created by environmental and human factors over a period of decades, centuries and even millennia.

Considering that the global climate system determines the availability of heat to world oceans and nutrients to life in the waters, the physical changes that occur to deep-sea corals and underwater canyons in the Southern Ocean would be of great interest to environmentalists and marine scientists.

Malcolm McCulloch, another scientist from UWA, said our climate system is regulated by large oceans that originate from Antarctica. The scientists came across a species of solitary cup coral and they said it was an important find given the importance of the coral to the expedition.

“This is significant because we are working on the same coral in the Ross Sea on the Antarctic shelf, in much colder waters,” said co-chief scientist Paolo Montagna from the Institute of Polar Sciences. “This is an important connection between disparate sites across the Southern Ocean, which helps us trace changes in water masses forming around Antarctica and dispersing northward into the Indian and other oceans.”