Antarctic expedition uncovers new marine treasures
28 Mar 2008
New Zealand's biggest scientific voyage has returned with a treasure trove of new marine life.
A group of New Zealand-led scientists spent 50 days surveying marine biodiversity and habitats in the Antarctic’s Ross Sea.
The team of 26 international scientists and 18 crew, worked to collect around 30,000 samples during the expedition.
Among the finds were hundreds of unfamiliar organisms and ''a lot of new species'', according to Don Robertson, a New Zealand marine scientist. These discoveries will be confirmed when samples are sent to experts around the world.
Hi-tech cameras allowed scientists to see many communities on the sea-floor for the first time and revealed new information about the behaviour, inter-relationships and habitats.
Some of the finds include jellyfish with 3.6m tentacles, giant sea snails and fields of 50cm-tall sea lilies stretching hundreds of metres. The large size of some of the specimens can be attributed to cold temperatures, low predator numbers and high levels of oxygen in the water.
Fish experts onboard recorded 88 fish species, of which eight are possibly new to science. These fish have developed special adaptations to deal with their extreme polar, deep-sea environment.
Scientists worked round the clock in the 24-hour days of the Antarctic summer. The team endured the worst ice conditions documented in the Ross Sea in 30 years. While processing the samples, scientists had to battle temperatures down to minus-13 degrees celcius. Blizzards caused equipment to ice up and samples of seawater, mud and fish to freeze on deck.
The project was part of an international effort by 23 countries to survey marine ecosystems and habitats in the waters surrounding Antarctica.
The survey was conducted for two global science programmes: International Polar Year and the Census of Antarctic Marine Life. The programmes aim to give a better understanding of the land and sea environments of the Antarctic and Arctic and to monitor the effects of climate change.
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