Northern Australian marine park’s sea floor caught on camera for first time

By Emilie Gramenz

23 October 2019

3 minute read

How’s the serenity? The view from RV Investigator. Image: Emilie Gramenz

In the turbid waters of the Wessel Marine Park in the Gulf of Carpentaria, an underwater garden of sponges, corals and creatures has been revealed.

A new study of the sea floor will be shared with the Gummur Marthakal, Yirralka and Dhimurru ranger groups who work in the marine park, which lies offshore from the Wessel Islands to Cape Arnhem.

As CSIRO’s ocean research vessel Investigator transited from Brisbane to Darwin earlier this month, researchers seized an 18-hour window to map part of the sea floor and drop a deep tow camera a handful of times.

Principal investigator Rachel Przeslawski from Geoscience Australia stayed up all night watching the live feed of the underwater camera with a crowd of support staff and curious onlookers.

“For us it looks like some horrible screen out of Star Wars when we’re looking at the video, but for them it’s actually a really rich food source,” Dr Przeslawski said.

“Most people aren’t too excited about invertebrates, but I’m talking about habitat formers, things other animals will live around.

“These bright yellow fan sponges, these gorgeous yellow barrel sponges, pink corals, orange sea fans … all of which support this really rich assemblage of life.”

The opaque conditions cloud the video, but an array of sponges and corals can be seen — suspension feeders that thrive on the particulate matter stirred up by the area’s strong currents.

“[If] we’d have been able to see through that turbidity, we would’ve seen this rainbow of colours and this beautiful garden of invertebrates and all the fish associated with it,” Dr Przeslawski said.

Geoscience Australia’s Rachel Przeslawki and Parks Australia’s Lou Fava.

Traditional owner shown underwater world

Jane Garrutju Gandangu is one of the Golpa traditional owners of this area.

She visited Investigator in port in Darwin, met members of the team on board, and was shown the video from the underwater camera.

“The reason why we give permission [for this exploration] is to look after the coral, to protect the land itself and the sea, and the creatures in the water that we don’t know,” she said in Darwin.

“I could see the depths of the sea bed of my land.”

“I don’t know what’s in it, but the camera helped me.

“I enjoyed watching that camera, walking and exploring the sea bed of Marchinbar, Wessel Island.”

Traditional owner Jane Garrutju Gandangu is excited to see the results of the sea floor mapping. Image: SUPPLIED.

Park mapping better informs science

Part of the area surveyed includes a depression, or hole, in the sea floor that is a sacred site.

Lou Fava, an officer with Australian Marine Parks, was part of the team on board.

“It’s great to be able to see the science first hand, and the science that helps inform how we manage the marine parks,” she said.

“The more we know about the park, the better informed we are, and that leads into better management and better protection — and that includes cultural values.”

Wessel Marine Park is one of eight marine parks in the Commonwealth’s North Marine Parks Network, established just last year.

The parks are all about three nautical miles offshore from the Northern Territory and Queensland and total 157,480 square kilometres.

Dugongs, dolphins, saltwater crocodiles, sea snakes, fish and seabirds all live in the tropical waters.

This article was originally published on ABC News. View the original article.