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Joint Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources
The Hon. Warren Entsch

27 May 2003

Revealing Australia's Mysterious Grand Canyons

Australia's very own mysterious underwater Grand Canyons - the Murray Canyons - will be revealed today for the first time in a detailed 3-dimensional animated fly-through at a joint launch by Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Warren Entsch.

The fly-through provides the first complete picture of the spectacular underwater topography of the massive Murray Canyons, which are deeper than America's Grand Canyon and more than twice the height of Australia's highest mountain, Mt Kosciusko.

These fascinating canyons stretch over more than 150 kilometres to the south of Kangaroo Island off the South Australia coast and are a virtually unknown Australian geological treasure.

"Produced by Geoscience Australia, the digital fly-through shows detailed images of the immense underwater canyon system that extends into the sea from the Murray River," Dr Kemp said.

"This information and other exciting new data was collected during the recent AUSCAN research voyage, which includes a core sample from the Murray Canyons that contains information on Australia's climate over the last 250,000 years."

The AUSCAN voyage was funded by the Federal Government's National Oceans Office (NOO) and the French Polar Institute with contributions from Australian National University (ANU), Geoscience Australia, and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.

During the voyage, scientists drilled long cores into sediment around the Murray Canyons system that has been deposited over the centuries by the Murray Darling river system. This information will hopefully allow scientists to chart the history of oceans and climate in this region every 100 years for the past 250,000 years.

It will also assist the National Oceans Office in implementing the Howard Government's Oceans Policy to sustainably manage precious marine resources. This includes Australia's regional planning process.

Regional marine planning is designed to reduce future conflicts between users of the ocean and its resources, protecting ecosystems as well as providing certainty for Australia's marine industries. Regional marine plans will be established for all oceans waters within our Exclusive Economic Zone out to the 200 nautical mile limit. The South-East Regional Marine Plan - to be launched later this year - is the world's first regional marine plan on this scale and takes in the ocean waters off Victoria, Tasmania, southern NSW and eastern SA.

Mr Entsch said the data and the fly-through is extremely valuable to support Australia's claim for additional areas of seafloor jurisdiction arising from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which governs international waters.

"This also includes data on the marine species that live in the Murray Canyons including blue whales, great white sharks and seals, and its rich biodiversity," he said.

Geoscience Australia senior scientist, Peter Hill, said data for the fly through on the Murray Canyons was collected using cutting-edge technology known as swath-mapping which bounces sonar beams to the seafloor and back to receivers creating a detailed 3-dimensional image of the underwater terrain.

"We will also combine the swath data with seismic data of the Murray Canyons region to get a better picture of the geology from the sea floor down to five kilometres or more into the earth. Together with information from sediment cores being studied by ANU geologists, this will increase our understanding of the region's evolution," he said.

Media Contacts:
Catherine Job (Dr Kemp) 02 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400
Greg Doolan (Mr Entsch) 02 6277 4656 or 0418 213 243 Samantha Lucia (Geoscience Australia) 02 6249 9438
Katrina Haig (National Oceans Office) 03 6221 5036

Commonwealth of Australia