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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Scientists discover marine bounty south of Tasmania

Media release
8 October 2008

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The discovery of hundreds of new marine species and previously unknown undersea mountains south of Tasmania highlighted the extraordinary environmental value of the newly declared Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said today.

Releasing the findings of two recent CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship marine research voyages to the Tasman Fracture and Huon Commonwealth Marine Reserves, Mr Garrett said the discoveries were a surprising insight into the biodiversity of the largely unexplored Southern Ocean.

"Scientists from around the world have analysed the fascinating findings of these voyages, which included an incredible 274 species new to science and a further 80 seamounts, or undersea mountains, which are some of the most biologically important habitats in our oceans.

"The richness of molluscs found in these voyages has been described by marine scientists as astounding and requiring a complete rewrite of textbooks for this type of fauna.

"These discoveries, in just two of the 14 reserves which form the South-east Commonwealth Marine Regional Network, show just how important that network and indeed the entire Commonwealth marine jurisdiction is in conserving Australia's remarkable deep ocean biodiversity,'' Mr Garrett said.

Reserves in the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network, declared in July 2007, cover a total of 226,000 square kilometres of ocean off Tasmania, Victoria, southern New South Wales and eastern South Australia. Similar reserve networks will be developed in Australia's other four marine regions over the next two years.

Data from this marine research project came from two surveys undertaken on the Marine National Facility Vessel - the RV Southern Surveyor - using multibeam sonar and underwater video transects, as well as seafloor sampling in November 2006 and April 2007.

In total, 274 species new to science were brought to the surface and analysed, along with 86 species previously unknown in Australian waters and 242 previously studied species. The sophisticated sonar equipment onboard also discovered 80 previously unknown seamounts, raising the total in the region to at least 144, which is easily the highest concentration in Australian waters. Scientists also discovered 145 new undersea canyons, raising the regional total to at least 276.

A management plan for the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network is in preparation and is expected to be released for public comment later in the year. The Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts contributed more than $900,000 to the CSIRO's $1.49 million project.

Commonwealth of Australia