“New to science” black corals filmed off Tasmania

By AG Staff Writer 24 August 2016
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Citizen scientists have captured the first-ever footage of a reef off the coast of eastern Tasmania, including black corals that may be new to science.

EXPERIENCED DEEP OCEAN divers acting as citizen scientists have taken the first-ever up-close look at a stunning deep granite reef off Bicheno, eastern Tasmania.

Their footage, taken at a depth of about 68m in the Freycinet Commonwealth Marine Reserve (CMR), shows colourful sponges, gorgonian fans, schools of butterfly perch – and large, tree-forming black corals that may be new to science.

The 200m-long reef was originally mapped by researchers with the National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) Marine Biodiversity Hub, hosted by the University of Tasmania, using multibeam sonar and an autonomous underwater vehicle back in 2011.

freycinet reef tasmania black corals

The divers filmed black corals, the first time in Australia these corals have been seen in coastal shelf waters. (Image courtesy Marine Biodiversity Hub)

“It’s an area known to local fishers as Joe’s Reef but its location had remained a mystery to scientists and managers.  It is occasionally fished during good weather when offshore access is possible, but the overall nature of the habitat and the reef fish and invertebrate it supports has been a mystery,” said project leader Neville Barrett from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Science (IMAS).

Unable to get a closer look due to the 60m-80m depth of the reef, the researchers engaged experienced technical divers from the Tasmanian Scuba Diving Club, James Parkinson and Andreas Klocker.

James and Andreas are among a handful of Tasmanian divers who use ‘re-breathers’, devices that recycle exhaled breath and remove waste carbon dioxide, allowing deeper and longer dives.

“I’ve known about the reef since the early 2000s, and have been keen to dive there, but it wasn’t until we had the new maps created by Neville’s team that we could pinpoint the location,” said James.

Neville said the ‘citizen scientists’ had helped make a significant leap forward in our knowledge of the reef, including discovering the first tree-forming black corals in coastal shelf waters, which he said is “an exciting new find for science”.

“The reef is brushed by strong currents that deliver non-stop supplies of food. This supports an oasis of life that looks highly valuable in terms of biodiversity and conservation,” he added.

“We now know the reef is the jewel in the crown of Freycinet CMR as far as unique features go and we’re keen to explore it further.”