Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) biologist Dr Glenn Johnstone and his research team were retrieving a data recorder from waters near the Casey Research Station. They sent down a camera with lights to record the mission. When the camera resurfaced they noticed it had recorded a lush seabed field of urchins, starfish, worms, algae and sponges.
“When you’re up above there’s very little colour,” Johnstone said. “There’s whites and blues and greys. All the animals are black and white, and as cute as they are, the real diversity and the real health of the environment is down on the sea floor.”
The ecosystem is located under a 1.5-metre ice sheet the researchers drilled through and at a 30-metre depth in a bay about five kilometres from Casey. “It’s an area that we have been working very close to for a long time, but we’ve never actually dived or put any cameras down,” he said. “It was a great surprise to find such a beautiful, vibrant environment.”
Johnstone explained that the complex underwater ecosystem would be a good future indicator of changes in climate and ocean acidification. Results from the data recorder would be analysed at the AAD in Hobart.