Deep-Sea Coral Gardens Discovered by Researchers in Mysterious Underwater Canyons

Researchers have discovered deep-sea coral "gardens" during a month-long ocean expedition off the coast off southwestern Australia.

Using a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV,) the team led by University of Western Australia (UWA) researchers, explored never-before-seen areas of the Bremer underwater canyon revealing a biodiverse ecosystem.

"We have already made a number of remarkable discoveries from the Bremer Canyon" leader of the expedition from UWA Julie Trotter said in a statement. "The vertical cliffs and ridges support a stunning array of deep-sea corals that often host a range of organisms and form numerous mini-ecosystems".

Trotter and her team on board the Falkor research vessle—owned by the Schmidt Ocean Institute—used their ROV, dubbed "SuBastian," to investigate the canyon to depths of up to 13,000 feet, imaging the deep-sea coral gardens and collecting various biological and geological samples.

One of the main goals of the research expedition was to collect samples of living and fossil corals from the deep waters of the underwater canyon system off Australia's southwestern coast, including the Bremer, Leeuwin and Perth Canyons.

Analyzing the fossils corals from this deep-sea habitat can help scientists to reconstruct recent and long-term ocean environmental records, including how factors such as temperature, water pH and nutrients, change over time.

These records can cover decades, centuries or even millennia, shining a light on long-term environmental trends in the ocean—including those driven by humans—while also providing valuable data about how corals respond to various types of stresses.

Bremer Canyon, coral gardens
A coral imaged by the ROV SuBastian during the Bremer Canyon expedition. Schmidt Ocean Institute

Importantly, the information gleaned from these deep-sea corals will provide insights into physical changes in the Southern Ocean—which is crucial to the global climate system given its role in regulating the supply of heat and nutrients to the world's major oceans.

"This has global implications given these waters originate from around Antarctica which feed all of the major oceans and regulate our climate system" Malcolm McCulloch, another member of the research expedition from UWA, said in a statement.

According to the expedition's co-chief scientist Paolo Montagna from the Institute of Polar Sciences in Italy, one species of solitary cup coral which the team found during the voyage was particularly intriguing.

"This is significant because we are working on the same coral in the Ross Sea on the Antarctic shelf, in much colder waters," Montagna said in a statement. "This is an important connection between disparate sites across the Southern Ocean, which helps us trace changes in water masses forming around Antarctica and dispersing northward into the Indian and other oceans."