Wellington, Mar 23: After completing one of the most comprehensive marine-life surveys carried out in the Southern Ocean, Kiwi scientists have found 30,000 marine-life specimens, of which at least 8 have not been seen before. The project was led by Stu Hanchet, who is a fisheries scientist for the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
Hanchet's team consisted of 26 scientists and 18 crew members who worked round the clock for 35 days for collecting the specimens, until their ship Tangaroa finally touched the shore on Mar 21. The scientists made use of hi-tech cameras to see many creatures on the sea-floor for the first time and revealed new information about their behaviour, inter-relationships and habitats. According to Hanchet, the expedition was the result of 18 months' planning and would cost close to 10 million dollars considering the post-trip specimen analysis also. He also revealed that during the expedition they recorded 88 samples of fish, of which eight were potential new discoveries. They took samples that included jellyfish with four-metre-long tentacles, large toothfish and tiny micro-plankton. Also collected as specimens were, a sea lily found in shallow waters, a sea urchin and a deepwater snail.
However, Hanchet said that any confirmation of new discovery could still be several months away. "It could be up to a year away - they need to be sent overseas to fish specialists," the NZPA quoted him, as saying. Malcolm Clark, a fisheries scientist said that the trip was invaluable as the researchers also studied the ecosystems of seamounts - underwater mountain ranges that often house unique ecosystems.
Of the many difficulties the researchers faced was turbulent weather conditions and heavy ice, during the course of the voyage. At times, the temperature dropped went as low as 13 degrees and fierce blizzards caused equipment to ice up and samples to freeze on deck. Clark said that many times the water froze in front of them, forming into large clumps on the surface.
"It would start freezing and pancakes would form. Right at the end we heard the ice scraping down the sides of the ship and you heard big thumps," said Hanchet. Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said that the data gathered on the voyage would contribute toward decision-making on environmental issues concerning climate change and its effect on the Southern Ocean.
"The results will also support New Zealand's commitment to ensuring the sustainable management of the Ross Sea region, including the toothfish fishery," he said.