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Deep Down Under The Sea

ScienceDaily (Dec. 4, 2006) — A new frontier in marine science is about to be crossed when Australia’s surrounding deep sea is explored using manned submersibles for the first time.

Known as Deep Australia, the project will draw researchers from around the world on a specially fitted out ship that will carry two submersibles capable of diving one kilometre down.

Researchers from the Universities of Queensland and Curtin (WA), AIMS and museums in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland will be at the forefront of the expedition along with a team of scientists from a variety of fields and organisations keen to discover what lies beyond our shores. The first of a number of expeditions is expected to launch in late 2007.

Lead researcher Professor Justin Marshall said while similar research had been done in the Northern Hemisphere, nothing like this had been attempted in this part of the world.

“We only have a very limited idea of what really lives down in the depths around Australia,” Professor Marshall said.

“Previous, manned research has relied on divers using rebreathers that only go down maybe 50 to 100 metres.

“And the only time we get to look at examples of what lives deep down is when a dead specimen, like a giant squid, floats to the surface or on deep-water trawling expeditions.

“What we’ll have for the first times are manned submersibles able to go down to depths of 1000 metres to examine first hand the habitat where these creatures actually live.”

Professor Marshall, from UQ’s Vision Touch and Hearing Research Centre, said he would be particularly looking at the sensory systems of sea life that live in dim light or total darkness.

“We expect to discover many examples of new species and the ways of life they have adopted in the deep,” he said.

Research sites already identified by the expedition include the outer slope of The Great Barrier Reef, Osprey Reef off Far North Queensland, deep sea canyons off the South Australian and West Australian coasts and sea-mounts off New South Wales and Victoria.

The deep sea research will be filmed using the latest HD TV cameras in deep-sea housings by both Australian and international documentary makers, potentially including a company closely associated with James Cameron, director of the Hollywood classic Titanic and the IMAX documentary “Aliens of the Deep”.

The Deep Australia project will also combine specialized adventure tourism with scientific research, with berths for a limited number of contributing supporters from the general public able to get up close and personal with the scientists and what they might uncover.

“An opportunity like this has never been available in Australia before and as you can imagine we are all very keen to get out to sea,” Professor Marshall said.

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