The team onboard RV Investigator reveal the first detailed map of the seafloor in the idyllic Cocos (Keeling) Islands Marine Park.

Researchers on board our research vessel (RV) Investigator have been on a world-first survey of biodiversity in the newly-established Cocos (Keeling) Islands Marine Park. In addition to this, they’ve also been putting more of our vast marine estate on the map!

A ship viewed from a tropical island.
RV Investigator viewed from Cocos (Keeling) Islands as it maps along the coastline. Image: Rohan Newton.

During the 35-day voyage, led by the Museums Victoria Research Institute, the team mapped out the unseen world beneath the waves. The result is the first detailed seafloor map of the new marine park.

The mapping (called bathymetry) reveals, in impressive detail, the ancient volcanic mountain that lies beneath these idyllic tropical islands.

Nelson Kuna is one of two Hydrographic Surveyors on board from CSIRO. He said very little high-resolution mapping had been done in the new marine park prior to this voyage.

“We’ve used the full ocean depth mapping capabilities of RV Investigator to completely survey around the Cocos (Keeling) Islands,” Nelson said.

“This ranged from coastal depths less than 100 meters (m) all the way down to the abyss some 4800 m below. As a result, the data set now covers a substantial area of the new marine park.”

The new mapping shows the Cocos (Keeling) Islands as the twin peaks of a massive seamount. The seamount rises nearly 5000 m from the surrounding seafloor. Interestingly, the mapping also reveals a smaller peak on the ridge between the north and south islands. This rises to approximately 350 m below sea level.

“It’s truly an honour to see, for the first time, these stunning underwater features revealed from the deep,” Nelson said.

Mapping out the management of a marine park

Importantly, the new mapping provides important information for Parks Australia. They manage the Cocos (Keeling) Island Marine Park, along with the newly-established Christmas Island Marine Park, as part of the Australian Marine Parks network.

A colourful map of the seafloor beneath two islands.
The mapping reveals in stunning detail the seafloor in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Marine Park. © CSIRO

Last but not least, it’s important to recognise that science is always a team effort.

This stunning new imagery was produced on board RV Investigator by combining the new CSIRO data with other existing datasets. This includes datasets from the Australian Hydrographic Office (LiDAR bathymetry-elevation), GEBCO2022 (background bathymetry) and AusSeabed (background bathymetry). RV Investigator captured the bathymetry using a gondola mounted multibeam echosounder.

Certain material in these mapping products is reproduced under licence by permission of The Australian Hydrographic Office. ©Commonwealth of Australia 2021. All rights reserved.


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