Five personnel from the Australian Museum Research Institute have embarked with a team of research scientists from around Australia on an expedition to explore deep-sea marine life around the Indian Ocean Territories.

The seafloor across the Indian Ocean Territories (IOT) consist of a series of deep seamounts that arise from the abyssal plain. Part of the IOT includes Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, both of which sit on top of massive seamounts. Very little is known about the biodiversity in the IOT region, and so Australian Museum scientists (Dr Elena Kupriyanova, Dr Frank Koehler, Dr Ingo Burghardt, Alice Chen Yan and Claire Rowe) are joining fellow researchers from around Australia on the “Investigating the IOT” voyage. Led by Dr Tim O’Hara, the Chief Scientist from Museums Victoria, this expedition will run for 45 days on the CSIRO research vessel (RV) Investigator, which departed from Darwin yesterday and returns to Fremantle on the 13th of August.


CSIRO research vessel Investigator at Fort Hill Wharf, Darwin, 27 June 2021.

CSIRO research vessel Investigator at Fort Hill Wharf, Darwin, 27 June 2021.

Image: Claire Rowe
© Australian Museum

The aim of the voyage is to complete multibeam mapping and collect benthic and planktonic samples from a number of IOT seamounts. Our job on board will be sort, preserve and identify the marine life collected, allowing the marine biodiversity in the region to be characterised. This voyage is important because the Australian Government has recently announced a process to create new marine parks in the regions of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The data collected on our voyage will assist this process by providing important information for conservation and management plans to be put in place. The collections from the voyage will be deposited in the Australian Museum, Museums Victoria, the Australian National Fish Collection and other participating museums for ongoing study of the biodiversity of this poorly known Australian territory.


Australian Museum personnel Dr Elena Kupriyanova, Dr Frank Koehler, Claire Rowe, Dr Ingo Burghardt, and Alice Chen Yan, 24 June 2021.

Australian Museum personnel Dr Elena Kupriyanova, Dr Frank Koehler, Claire Rowe, Dr Ingo Burghardt, and Alice Chen Yan, 24 June 2021. [NB: Image taken before the NT lockdown]

Image: Robert French
© Museums Victoria

It has been a stressful start to our journey with the recent COVID-19 outbreak across Australia, forcing us to leave Greater Sydney sooner than expected. After completing the first of three COVID-19 tests required to board the RV Investigator and receiving negative results, we were able to group again in Darwin. As we arrived 5 days earlier than anticipated, we had time to explore the area, including visiting Crocosaurus Cove and tasting the famous laksa at Mindil Beach Markets. However, we were not safe yet… while enjoying a nice lunch in the Botanic Gardens on our last day in Darwin, we received an urgent alert instructing us to board the RV Investigator ASAP. Darwin headed into a snap 48-hour lockdown, and we only had an hour’s notice to board the ship! We ran back to our hotels, grabbed our belongings and raced towards the ship.

We are now all safely on board – we have unpacked, completed our third and final COVID-19 test, and yesterday we headed out to sea.

If you would like to track our voyage, including watching a live video stream, please go to: https://mnf.csiro.au/en/RV-Investigator.

Stay tuned for more information about what we find…


Australian Museum personnel Dr Elena Kupriyanova, Claire Rowe, Dr Ingo Burghardt, Alice Chen Yan and Dr Frank Koehler impersonating a polychaete, 24 June 2021.

Australian Museum personnel Dr Elena Kupriyanova, Claire Rowe, Dr Ingo Burghardt, Alice Chen Yan and Dr Frank Koehler impersonating a polychaete, 24 June 2021. [NB: Image taken before the NT lockdown]

Image: Robert French
© Museums Victoria

Claire Rowe, PhD student, Marine Invertebrates, Australian Museum Research Institute and The University of Sydney.


Acknowledgements

This research is supported by a grant of sea time on RV Investigator from the CSIRO Marine National Facility. We would like to acknowledge:

  • The Marine National Facility
  • Dr Tim O-Hara (Museum Victoria), Chief Scientist “Investigating the IOT”
  • Crew and scientists on board the RV Investigator
  • CSIRO
  • Photos: Robert French (Museum Victoria)


Please note, the CSIRO research vessel Investigator voyage has been temporarily suspended and the planned voyage will be rescheduled. Learn more.