Osprey Reef, located about 350km northeast of Cairns in Australia is home to many prehistoric creatures that could give scientists clues about our own evolution. Six-gilled sharks, giant oilfish, swarms of crustaceans and unidentified fish have been captured on low-light remote control cameras placed on the ocean floor at a depth of 4,954 feet (1,400m).
The sun’s rays cannot penetrate the water at depths beyond 800m (about a half of a mile), so creatures located at these depths create their own light through bioluminescence.
Although the middle of the ocean has very little life in it compared to rainforests or a tropical reef, the ocean floor has a wealth of new species. “If you go down that deep, you are going to find new species,” said Professor John Marshall, team leader of the project. "We simply do not know what life is down there."
Deep sea marine life, as well as the lack of understanding of it, and the challenges of working at such depths have been in the news lately as the United States debates the merits of drilling deeper waters following the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I think it's reasonable to say we've seen more of the moon than the deep sea," said Lisa Levin, a professor of biological oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
"Some of the creatures that we've seen we were sort of expecting, some of them we weren't expecting, and some of them we haven't identified yet," said Marshall. The team used a tuna head on a stick to attract the creatures.
Part of the Great Barrier Reef, Osprey Reef is one of Australia’s largest and most valuable ecosystems. It is being threatened by global warming and chemical run-off. Several large oil spills have also hurt the fragile ecosystem. On April 3, 2010, a Chinese coal ship, called Shen Neng 1, gouged a 3m scar in the reef while attempting to take a shortcut. It leaked tons of oil into the reef. In March 2009, about 200,000 liters of heavy oil were spilled into the reef when shipping containers full of fertilizer fell off a ship during a cyclone, piercing its hull.
Marshall and his team want to learn more about the Osprey Reef before the species in it die out for good. Marshall said, "One of the things that we're trying to do by looking at the life in the deep sea is discover what's there in the first place, before we wipe it out." Marshall's next stop is the sludge-filled Gulf of Mexico.
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