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27 July 2012 Weird and wonderful deep sea plankton

A 25 cm-long intact specimen of the reproductive stage of the planktonic sea squirt – Thetys vagina

A research trip to the Coral Sea has just returned to the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), bringing with it new information on weird and wonderful sea creatures.

The Research Vessel Cape Ferguson visited the northernmost region of the Coral Sea, to collect more information about a soup of organisms that are important in the diet of tropical rock lobster larvae. Comprised of jellyfishes and other gelatinous organisms, this ‘soup' is not only consumed by commercially important species of lobster, but plays a major role in transporting carbon from greenhouse gases into the deep ocean abyss.

The research team deployed a high-tech camera called the Visual Plankton Recorder (VPR) to document these tiny organisms at depths of 600 metres below the ocean surface. This ‘underwater microscope' takes 15 colour photographs per second and was able to provide excellent images of these animals in their natural state.

"These jellyfish and other organisms are incredibly fragile creatures, and past attempts to collect them using plankton nets have typically left them damaged beyond recognition", explains Dr Mike Hall, principal research scientist at AIMS, and research leader of the cruise.

"The VPR is an important technological advance that allows us to quickly gather useful information about this important lobster nursery ground in Australian waters" remarks Dr. Dhugal Lindsay from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

To add to the success of the trip, the research team was able to capture numerous rarely recorded species, including a 25 cm-long intact specimen of the reproductive stage of the planktonic sea squirt – Thetys vagina – using a specialised plankton net called an Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl. Understanding more about important dietary items of lobster larvae will help with efforts to develop commercially viable aquaculture techniques for potentially lucrative exports of lobster.

The trip also marks the beginning of an international collaborative effort to study the open ocean and deep water of the Coral Sea, with this research trip involving scientists from AIMS, JAMSTEC, University of Western Australia and Otago University, New Zealand.


For further information:

Dr Mike Hall, AIMS Research Scientist, (07) 4753 4308 or 0407 553 408;      

Steve Clarke, AIMS science communication, (07) 4753 4264 or 0419 668 497;