QUT scientists set sail on voyage of discovery to outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef

1st October 2020

QUT scientists will capture world-first vision of the remote and unexplored deepwater habitats off Cape York as part of a Schmidt Ocean Institute research expedition.

Mardi McNeil--a PhD student and marine geoscientist--and Dr Luke Nothdurft from the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences will embark on the six-week voyage aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor, setting sail for the northern frontiers of the Great Barrier Reef.

The QUT researchers will join a team of scientists from James Cook University, Queensland Museum, Museum of Tropical Queensland, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, The University of Sydney, CSIRO, and the University of Grenada.

McNeil and Nothdurft will use high-resolution multibeam sonar to map the seafloor, mesophotic (twilight zone) reef slopes and submarine canyons of the outer edges of the northern Great Barrier Reef. 

The ship’s remotely operated vehicle ROV SuBastian will also collect high-resolution 4K video footage, which scientists hope will reveal the biodiversity inhabiting these deeper waters. 

McNeil, who recently returned from her second expedition on RV Falkor, has been appointed Co-Chief Scientist, alongside the voyage Chief Scientist Dr Robin Beaman from James Cook University. 

“This new expedition takes us to the edge of the far northern frontier of Australia’s continental shelf, and will reveal the geology, habitats and biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef deep seascape,” McNeil said.

The voyage will gather data on submarine canyons, undersea landslides, and detached mesophotic (deep) reefs that rise from around 500 meters below the sea surface.

Until now, the structure of the deep-sea canyons offshore of Cape York—and even the reasons why these detached reefs exist—are unknown and unexplored.

“This is the first time that scientists and marine park managers will be able to collect vision from these remote northern mesophotic and deep-sea habitats,” McNeil said.

“It is a true exploration voyage of discovery to the outer edge.” 

McNeil was onboard RV Falkor for the Seamounts, Canyons and Reefs of the Coral Sea project, the vessel’s fourth and most recent expedition for the year, which was one of the most comprehensive deep-sea studies of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea Marine Parks to date.

Follow McNeil and Nothdurft’s journey on RV Falkor via the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Northern Depths of the Great Barrier Reef cruise log. 

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