The Catlin Seaview Survey announced today that its deep-water exploration of the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea off Australia, to depths well beyond the reach of scuba divers, has discovered healthy coral habitats thriving below 30 metres. These healthy deep reefs are located directly under shallower reefs that have been heavily damaged by storms and other stresses, including coral bleaching and invasive plagues of crown-of-thorns starfish.
The expedition is revealing new insights into the state of the Great Barrier Reef, especially the deep reef that is almost totally unexplored by scientists.
The Catlin Seaview Survey is sponsored by Catlin Group Limited (‘CGL’; London Stock Exchange), the international specialty property/casualty insurer and reinsurer.
1. Shallow Reef damaged by storms
2. The Deep Reef: Robot Vehicle takes samples
3. Deep Reef corals ‘plated in a hunt for light
Speaking from the research boat where he is leading the Catlin Seaview Survey’s deep reef operations, Dr Pim Bongaerts of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute said: “The Holmes and Flinders Reefs in the Coral Sea are renowned for having been badly damaged. Yet we have found their deep reef zone is hardly disturbed at all. In fact, the most striking thing is the abundance of coral on the deep reef. What has blown me away is to see that even 70 to 80 metres down, there are significant coral populations.”
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Chief Scientist for the Catlin Seaview Survey, pointed out that a recent report from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) that showed that the Great Barrier Reef had lost half its coral cover in the last 27 years was a study of the situation in the shallow reef.
“Our work in the deep reef is already casting a new light on our understanding. Up until now our knowledge was limited to the shallow reefs accessible by scuba diving. In reality, that provided us with an incomplete picture. Now, using ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles), we are able to get below 30 metres and down to 100 metres, revealing a wholly different picture that now includes the deep reef environment,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg commented.
The Deep Reef Survey team has completed four of its ten planned surveys at areas along the length of the 2,300-kilometre reef system and its outlying atolls. It has already produced five specimens for further analysis, which may prove to be new species, and it expects to collect many more.
Dr Carden C. Wallace, an expert on corals at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Australia, said she is struck by what the Catlin Seaview Survey is finding. “Up to now we’ve had only a very small number of specimens from deep reefs, mostly dredged samples, totalling about 20. Yet already, the Catlin Seaview Survey has collected more than 1,000 deep coral specimens (below 40 metres) during these early stages of the survey – with collections still ongoing. It is not only that they are finding abundant communities at depth, but some of these turn out to be quite diverse. Using the ROV vehicles to film and collect samples at this scale is simply unprecedented in Australian waters.”
The discovery of wide areas of healthy deep reef raises the possibility that they could provide a refuge for corals that are under stress in the shallow reef.
Dr Bongaerts said: “This mesophotic layer, just beneath shallow reefs, could provide coral recruits for the upper levels of the reef, providing a potential for them to help in the recovery of areas heavily damaged by climate change-related impacts. At the moment we know little about the extent of larval movements between the shallow and deep reefs, but we are seeing species that exist in both zones.
“Deep reefs are unique eco systems that have been hidden away and unexplored, yet they are very much part of Australia’s natural heritage,” Dr Bongaerts said. “There are clear differences we’re observing. Corals are much flatter, more plate-like than the branching and domed shapes seen nearer the surface. This is the corals responding to the reduced light conditions and spreading out to maximize their exposure to light. So far below the surface, the light is blue because all other parts of the spectrum have been filtered out. It is a monochrome world until you turn on strong lights to reveal amazing, beautiful, fantastic colours.”
The Catlin Seaview Survey, which launched last month, has embarked on a mission to create a baseline study of both shallow and deep reefs around the world. Its shallow reef survey is using a unique 360-degree camera system to document wide areas of the reef and ROVs to record the deep reef. Further experiments and long-term monitoring of deep reefs will also be undertaken. The baseline study produced by the Catlin Seaview Survey is intended to provide a global record of reef systems as a reference point for future studies and facilitate the monitoring of changes in coral habitats that are imperiled by climate change.
Dr Bongaerts added: “It is surprising in this day and age, below some of the most well-known reefs which are so popular with divers, there is an almost entirely unexplored world and as a result an enormous amount of science to be done.”
The Catlin Seaview Survey is the fourth scientific expedition sponsored by Catlin Group Limited, following the three Catlin Arctic Surveys investigating environmental changes in the Arctic that took place from 2009-2011. Catlin believes that insurers must take a leading role in improving our understanding of potential changes to our environment, changes that could affect how risks are managed in the future. Catlin’s contribution is to sponsor independent, impartial research that is freely distributed to the world’s scientific community.
The public can get a flavour of the expedition experience by taking a user-controlled ‘virtual dive’ onto the reef on the expedition’s website, www.catlinseaviewsurvey.com, and via the StreetView feature of Google Maps at www.maps.google.com/ocean. The virtual dive allows people to use their own keyboard controls explore the reef for themselves. More than 1.6 million people are already following the Catlin Seaview Survey on Google+
Catlin Seaview Survey Expedition Facts
The first Catlin Seaview Survey expedition on the Great Barrier Reef set off on 16th September 2012.
The Survey of the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea runs until the end of December and will visit 20 separate coral reefs along the 2,300km reef on an unprecedented scale and depth range, including sections of the reef that have never previously been seen or studied. It will then continue on to selected global locations in 2013 including Hawaii, the Philippines and Bermuda.
The Catlin Seaview Survey includes two separate operations:
Shallow Reef Survey: Using state-of-the-art digital technology to capture approximately 50,000 360-degree panoramic images of the reef, the visual imagery will be linked to create a virtual dive experience. Each image will be geo-located, with automated technologies for rapidly assessing the amount of coral cover and other life forms from locations at 20 separate coral reefs along the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef. This will provide a broad scale baseline for understanding change on coral reefs.
Deep Reef Survey: Using diving robots and other innovative instrument packages, the Catlin Seaview Survey Team will begin to explore deep water reef systems (beneath 30 metres in depth) that are very rarely visited by humans, yet may hold some of the secrets of whether or not coral reefs could survive rapid climate change. Using a combination of HD cameras, deep-diving robots and survey equipment, the deep-water component will provide a comprehensive study of the health composition and biodiversity of the deep-water reefs on the Great Barrier Reef. It will also experimentally assess their susceptibility to increased temperatures and ocean acidification, which are byproducts of a changing climate.
For more information contact:
Head of Communications
Catlin Group Limited, London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7458 5710
Mobile: +44 (0)7958 767 738
Catlin Seaview Survey, UK/Europe
Tel: +44 (0)1491 613 715
Mobile: +44 (0)781 402 9819
Catlin Seaview Survey, United States
Tel: +1 212-633-6301
Mobile: +1 816-916-5238
Head of Investor Relations
Catlin Group Limited, London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7458 5726
Mobile: +44 (0)7710 314 365
Notes to editors:
- Undersea photos taken by the Catlin Seaview Survey team can be downloaded at http://www.zenfolio.com/catlinseaviewsurvey/p690908827
- Catlin Group Limited, headquartered in Bermuda, is an international specialist property/casualty insurer and reinsurer writing more than 30 classes of business worldwide through six underwriting hubs. Gross premiums written in 2011 amounted to US$4.5 billion.
- Catlin has established operating hubs in London, Bermuda, the United States, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and Canada. Through these hubs, Catlin works closely with policyholders and their brokers. The hubs also provide Catlin with product and geographic diversity. Altogether, Catlin operates more than 55 offices in 21 countries.
- Catlin's underwriting units are rated 'A' by A.M. Best and Standard & Poor's.
- Catlin shares are traded on the London Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: CGL). More information about Catlin can be found at www.catlin.com.
- The Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland, Australia, in collaboration with private and public sector partners, is an independent source of high-impact, game-changing science. The Global Change Institute seeks to advance scientific discovery and identify solutions for meeting the challenges presented by climate change, population change and technological innovation. The Global Change Institute is the science partner of the Catlin Seaview Survey.