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Scientists map Australian continental shelf

Australia: Marine scientists from five research agencies have developed a directory of life on Australia’s continental shelf. They examined the shelf seascape during a three-year programme of the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF) Marine Biodiversity Hub.

According to Hub director, Professor Nic Bax of CSIRO and the University of Tasmania, the programme compiled existing biological survey datasets, mapped 1868 square kilometres of seabed with multibeam sonar, recorded 171 km of underwater video, and collected nearly 1000 samples of seabed sediments and marine life.

Prof Bax said, “At a national level we identified 37 environmental factors that shape seabed life, such as depth, oceanography, the type of seafloor, food availability, and the strength of currents and waves. Statistical modelling was then used to predict seabed biodiversity, at a scale of one square km, across more than two million square km of the continental shelf.”

Prof Bax added that the new maps and knowledge highlight the complex patterns of biodiversity across Australia’s shelf habitats, while emphasising how much more we need to know.

Some of the maps have already been used by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC) to improve its understanding of Australia’s oceans as part of the marine bioregional planning process.

All of the new information will be incorporated into the Australia Ocean Data Network and the Atlas of Living Australia to improve access to essential information on Australia’s biodiversity. The program also completed finer scale mapping of previously unknown areas of the seabed in four important areas around Australia: Jervis Bay, Lord Howe Island, Southern-eastern Tasmania and Carnarvon Shelf.

Source: CSIRO