[ASC-media] JCU NEWS: Investigating living fossils

Linden Woodward linden.woodward at jcu.edu.au
Fri Nov 27 08:30:06 CET 2009

JCU Media Release
Friday November 27, 2009

Investigating living fossils in Australia’s deep-sea

A team of German and Australian researchers will leave Townsville on  
Monday (30 November) on an expedition that will take them back in  
time, and deep into the waters off the Queensland coast.

Geobiologists from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, the  
Natural History Museum at the Humboldt-Universität Berlin, the  
University of Göttingen, the Queensland Museum, University of  
Queensland and James Cook University will explore the deep fore-reef  
slopes of the Queensland Plateau and the Great Barrier Reef.

They are investigating ‘living fossils’ such as sponges, brachiopods,  
echinoderms and the famous cephalopods Nautilus. They also hope to  
find cold-water coral reefs in the deep.

“The deep-sea ecosystems on the slopes of the Queensland Plateau have  
remained largely unchanged for millions of years,” said Professor Gert  
Wörheide, a geobiologist from Munich, who leads the expedition  
together with Dr. Carsten Lüter (Natural History Museum Berlin) and  
Professor Joachim Reitner (University of Göttingen).

“As a consequence, organisms that had long been thought to be extinct  
have managed to survive in this area since the end of the Mesozoic,  
about 65 Million years ago.”

The 15 researchers will document marine life to depths of about 1000  
metres. They will retrieve specimens for further research, including  
comparison with the fossil record, and with other contemporary  
organisms living in dark caves of shallow water reefs.

The expedition will use a remote-operated vehicle (an ROV) from the  
Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences in Bremen, Germany, to  
investigate deep-sea life.

“This is a really exciting opportunity to explore life in the deep  
seas off our coast,” said James Cook University geoscientist Dr Rob  
Beaman, whose seabed maps will help guide the expedition.

“Most of our knowledge of the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea is  
limited to around 30 metres,” Dr Beaman said. “We know very little  
about life beyond these depths, so we can expect plenty of surprises  
when we send the ROV down as far as a kilometre.”

The German members of the research team originally discovered this  
deep-sea fauna on an expedition to the Coral Sea in the mid 1990s.

Deep Down Under, their current research project, will investigate the  
biodiversity around Flinders, Holmes, Bougainville and Osprey reefs  
and the outer Great Barrier Reef margin.

They will also conduct reef dives, detailed habitat mapping and  
environmental measurement of water masses during the three-week  

Amongst others, the research project received a 300,000E grant from  
the German Research Foundation.

The research partners in Australia are the Queensland Museum, the  
University of Queensland, as part of the Deep Ocean Australia project  
funded by the Australian Research Council, as well as the University  
of Sydney and James Cook University.

The research team will document the expedition in their blog at www.deepdownunder.de 

Information for media:
 > Prof Gert Wörheide and Dr Rob Beaman will be available for  
interview in Townsville on Sunday 29 November.
 > Dr Rob Beaman, Tel 0438 623 145.
 > The research ship MV PMG Pride will be moored at the Pacific Marine  
Group wharf, Number 30, 7th Avenue, South Townsville.
 > The vessel will depart Townsville during the morning on Monday 30  
 > http://www.deepdownunder.de/index.php


Linden Woodward

Media and Communications
Division of University Services and Registrar
James Cook University

PO Box 6811, Cairns 4870
T: 07 4042 1007
M: 04 1979 1564
JCU CRICOS Provider Code: 00117J (Qld)

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