Historic voyage through Australian Indian Ocean Territories

The Hon Sussan Ley MP, Minister for the Environment

The Hon Christian Porter, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology

An epic 45-day voyage to discover new species and map marine ecosystems across Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories embarks from Darwin today.

The CSIRO Research Vessel RV Investigator will carry a team of scientists to map unexplored underwater regions, and increase our knowledge of marine ecosystems as Australia investigates the establishment of a new Marine Protected Area covering up to 740,000 square kilometers.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said that scientists will collect data and information around the Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to better understand the underwater treasures of this Marine Environment and to help manage them into the future.

“This pioneering voyage will visit places never seen by humans before as it studies marine life in the proposed Australian IOT Marine Park area,” Minister Ley said.

“This is an international marine treasure on Australia’s doorstep, one that is from a scientific perspective relatively undisturbed and undiscovered.

“Australian Marine Parks conserve and protect marine habitats and species while supporting sustainable social and economic use of the marine environment.”

The RV Investigator will also sail through three existing Australian Marine Parks – the Oceanic Shoals Marine Park, the Argo-Rowley Terrace Marine Park and the Abrolhos Marine Park – where it will map the Argo canyon and collect data.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Christian Porter said scientists would conduct more than 200 biodiversity surveys during the voyage.

“The research team will use a high-tech multi-beam sonar to map the structure of the seafloor, and cameras, nets and sleds to sample habitats from depths of 60 m to depths well into the midnight zone and beyond at around 5.5 km below the surface,” Minister Porter said.

The voyage is a collaboration between Museums Victoria, Parks Australia, CSIRO, Bush Blitz, Australian Museum, Western Australian Museum, South Australian Museum, James Cook University, University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Tasmania.

Voyage leader and veteran deep-sea researcher Dr Tim O’Hara, from Museums Victoria, said the outcomes of this voyage would provide baseline data and scientific outputs to help Parks Australia implement new Australian Marine Parks across the Indian Ocean Territories.

“This undersea world holds immense value to island communities and the Australian public,” Dr O’Hara said.

“The data gathered on this trip will provide greater understanding Australia’s deep-sea habitats, their biodiversity and the ecological processes that sustain them. This will be crucial in conservation and future management strategies, working towards protecting these isolated areas from the impacts of climate change, pollution and other human activity.”

Dr Tara Martin, Facilities Program Director of the CSIRO Marine National Facility, said the RV Investigator brought marine researchers together to build knowledge for the nation.

“This collaboration of experts from nine Australian institutions will increase our understanding of ocean life around these remote tropical islands,” Dr Martin said. “The RV Investigator gives scientists a chance to look into the deepest corners of our oceans. This helps us better understand and manage these valuable marine environments.”

Meanwhile, Bush Blitz – a multimillion-dollar research biodiscovery research collaboration between the Australian Government, BHP and Earthwatch – will also be aboard the vessel for its most significant marine discovery voyage to date.

Bush Blitz expedition leader Dr Kate Grarock said the voyage would bring the excitement of discovering new species and the wonder of our oceans into classrooms.

“We will be offering livestream lessons to classrooms across Australia and on Christmas and Cocos Islands to inspire future generations to care for their marine environment,” Dr Grarock said.

“The Bush Blitz program has worked with scientists to discover more than 1700 new species. These discoveries have largely taken place across Australia’s vast landscapes, this time we’ll focus on our vast seascapes.”

This research voyage is supported by a grant of sea time on RV Investigator from the CSIRO Marine National Facility.

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