20 July 2015
Submersible: A team of marine biologists from The University of Queensland has discovered a specialised community of deep-water corals in Curaçao, an island in the Dutch Caribbean.
Submersible: A team of marine biologists from The University of Queensland has discovered a specialised community of deep-water corals in Curaçao, an island in the Dutch Caribbean.

A team of marine biologists from The University of Queensland (UQ) has discovered a specialised community of deep-water corals in Curaçao, an island in the Dutch Caribbean.

Using a manned submersible UQ Global Change Institute’s (GCI) Dr Pim Bongaerts and his team of divers surveyed these unexplored deep waters as part a global reef monitoring program called the XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

Dr Bongaerts said his team worked together to provide a first in-depth assessment of the coral community down to a depth of 100 metres below sea level, collecting specimens and conducting underwater experiments.

“Despite the reduced light at these depths, the team observed a unique community of corals down to a depth of about 90 m, demonstrating that the reef extends well below the existing Marine Park boundary of 60 m,” he said.

“From the submersible, some of the corals looked like species commonly observed in shallow-water, but through genetic sequencing of the specimens collected we discovered that the corals in these deep waters are actually very distinct and represent a unique community.

“Coral reefs in Curacao and Bonaire are protected down to 60 meters, so we purposely looked beyond that and found a distinct community of deep tropical corals, worth protecting in their own right,” Dr Bongaerts said.

Despite the great depths of these coral communities, they are not naturally safeguarded from human impacts. The team also observed disposed anchors, fishing gear and disgarded beer bottles.

Dr Bongaerts said the first step towards protecting biodiversity was knowing that it is exists and that is why it was so important to study unexplored habitats such as deep coral reefs. 

The study is published in Scientific Reports of the Nature Publishing Group and can be accessed here.

The Global Change Institute is the lead scientific partner for the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, an internationally renowned research project sponsored by global insurer Catlin Group Limited and managed by Australian not-for-profit Underwater Earth. 

The Catlin Seaview Survey is creating a global baseline for coral reef health and aims to provide better science to inform policy and educate communities on the health of coral reefs locally and around the world.

This research expedition was also sponsored by the Explorers Club New York and supported by Substation Curacao and the Carmabi Marine Research Station.

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Contact: GCI Communications and Engagement Officer Rachael Hazell, +61 7 3443 3150, +61 (0) 415 814 529, r.hazell@uq.edu.au

The Global Change Institute

The Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland, Australia, is an independent source of game-changing research, ideas and advice for addressing the challenges of global change. GCI advances discovery, implements solutions and advocates responses that meet the challenges presented by climate change, technological innovation and population change.

The University of Queensland

The University of Queensland is one of Australia's premier learning and research institutions. Queensland’s oldest university, it has produced more than 200,000 graduates since opening in 1911. Measured through a combination of three key global university rankings — The Times Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong and QS World University — UQ is currently ranked in the top 100 of all universities worldwide. UQ is a founding member of the national Group of Eight (Go8) – a coalition of Australia’s leading universities.

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