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Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp

24 October 2003

Australian Marine Species Join Global Census


Australia will contribute the findings of a groundbreaking voyage of discovery, taken earlier this year, to a global Census of Marine Life, Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, announced today.

The Census is a 10-year program that aims to assess the diversity and distribution of marine life worldwide and to make this information widely available. It involves researchers from more than 45 nations, including Australia.

One of Australia's first contributions to the Census is the outcome of the joint Australia-New Zealand 'NORFANZ' expedition to the deep waters of the Lord Howe Rise and Norfolk Ridge in May-June this year, during which more than 500 fish and 1300 invertebrate species were identified.

"Today's exciting news that Australia will contribute its recent findings from the NORFANZ voyage to the census coincides with the launch of the first international report of the Census for Marine Life from 2000-2003," Dr Kemp said.

"This report provides an overview of the fascinating discoveries over the past three years and draws a baseline for exploration to 2010 that is likely to yield some more surprises, including those from Australia's own scientists."

Dr Kemp said Australia will contribute its NORFANZ findings to the census' Deep Sea project which features data on submarine canyons and seamounts discovered by scientists from all over the world.

The four-week NORFANZ voyage was jointly funded by the Australian Government's National Oceans Office, CSIRO Marine Research, the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

"The NORFANZ voyage, which received considerable interest and participation from scientists worldwide, collected trawl samples, DNA tissue samples, photographs and video on seamounts at depths between 200 metres and 1.2 kilometres. Scientists also surveyed free-swimming animals that live in the water masses above and around these seamounts," Dr David Kemp said.

"The main objective of this expedition was to provide baseline information on the composition, nature and potential vulnerability of these unique habitats. The results give us a much better understanding of the species that live on and around the deep seamounts and ridges throughout the Tasman Sea, many of which may be new to science.

"Australia is uniquely placed to contribute to the Census. We have strong credentials in marine science and information management, and we occupy a vast ocean territory with a high level of unique species amid the relatively unexplored Southern Hemisphere oceans.

"This information will also be used for the regional marine planning process as part of the Australian Government's Oceans Policy, taking into account the region's biodiversity."

CSIRO biologist and joint voyage leader, Dr Alan Williams, said the NORFANZ voyage yielded many species new to science and many others not previously recorded in this region.

"Its success was due largely to the breadth of expertise contributed by the international scientists who took part. The NORFANZ survey relied on a unique scientific collaboration between international research agencies, including the major museums of New Zealand and Australia," he said.

"It was a cross-disciplinary expedition of more than 30 scientists. Specialist taxonomists identified and photographed marine animals, acoustic engineers made maps of seabed habitats, and computer specialists compiled all the survey data in databases on the ship. Specimens gathered during the survey have been distributed worldwide and species are being formally described at museums.

"All this information will support Australia's efforts to identify the diversity, relationships, uniqueness and distributions of its marine life, and to assess conservation values of special areas, such as the Lord Howe Rise and Norfolk Ridge."

The Census of Marine Life is coordinated by an international steering committee supported by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The first meeting of the Australian committee for the Census was held in Canberra earlier this month, convened by the National Oceans Office.

"The Census is an ambitious step towards understanding and conserving our global marine biodiversity," National Oceans Office chief scientist, Dr Sally Troy, said.

"Its goal is bring together what is known now about our marine biodiversity, facilitate research programs to fill some important gaps in our knowledge, and provide a global perspective by 2010.

"We've started down that road by establishing an Australian committee which brings together representatives from state and federal government agencies, universities, and other research organisations."

More information about the census can be found at http://www.coreocean.org

Commonwealth of Australia