Illuminating Biodiversity of the Ningaloo Canyons

Very few deep sea areas both in and outside of Australia have been well-sampled over large spatial and temporal scales, and a large number of species still remain undiscovered and unnamed. Following the first explorations of Bremer Bay and Perth Canyon, Falkor will bring ROV SuBastian to the Ningaloo Canyons. Dr. Nerida Wilson, of the Western Australian Museum, and her team will aim to identify and characterize the benthic biodiversity in Cape Range and Cloates Canyons and complement ROV surveys using environmental genetics (eDNA). In a country where there are little opportunities to explore the deep sea with a dedicated science ROV, this expedition will have a major impact in understanding this deep sea region. 

ROV SuBastian gathers a Radiaster near Bremer Canyon, off South West Australia.SOI/ROV SuBastian

Biodiversity hotspots
The remote Western Australian coast (Eastern Indian Ocean) is known for its extensive karst system (sharp limestone ridges and towers in the landscape that are formed by erosion) and network of subterranean water bodies, supporting an incredible diversity of evolutionarily significant fauna. In stark contrast, the deep sea environment adjacent to this celebrated area remains almost unexplored. Major patterns of marine biodiversity appear to be strongly related to temperature, so exploring marine areas near known terrestrial hotspots offers an effective strategy for identifying undiscovered biodiversity. To counter the information deficit found in Western Australian coast, the interdisciplinary team on this expedition plans to actively survey a significant and biologically unexplored submarine canyon, Cape Range Canyon.

ROV team and chief scientists watching the live feed from the control room on R/V Falkor.Angela Rossen

To get a true understanding of the area’s diversity, the science team will complement ROV SuBastian video surveys and collections with eDNA. This inventory will be helped by the use of eDNA (Environmental DNA), which refers to all the genetic material that can be recovered from an environmental sample. This cutting-edge technique can detect traces of animals left behind that may not be encountered during surveys and will serve as a comparison to more traditional techniques.

Mapping to Lead the Way
The ROV sampling will be guided by experts, as opposed to ‘blind’ grabs or trawls. This allows significant improvements in collection success, as well as re-collection on subsequent dives, and less environmental impacts. The team will also expand on the baseline seafloor mapping in the Gascoyne Marine Park to develop the regional context of canyon habitats in which to interpret the faunal inventory.

False-colour bathymetry image of Cape Range Canyon and Cloates Canyon (see Fig. 5.3. for location). Representative profiles of the Cape Range Canyon show incised canyon morphology (A-D) and knick-point in upper reaches (E).Geoscience Australia - Daniell et al., 2009

When the ROV is not in the water, R/V Falkor’s EM302 deepwater multibeam system will be used to map the seafloor. The resulting continuous high-resolution bathymetry and backscatter of the entire Cape Range Canyon (from head to abyssal fan) will help characterize habitats from which fauna are sampled.

The resulting faunal inventory is fundamental to a better understanding from which more robust ecological approaches can be developed. These areas are usually overlooked when policies are made. North-western Australian deep sea environments are broadly impacted by extraction by oil and natural gas industries. These industrial impacts are ‘out of sight, out of mind’, and an overall lack of understanding of these environments inhibits conservation actions. Understanding what biodiversity occurs in these zones is paramount to activating effective management processes.

Australia geoscience
Curtin University Logo
GSHS Logo Large Colour

Data & Publications

Annotated imagery is available in Squidle+. [You may have to create a username and password to access full capabilities]. To view images from this cruise, click SELECT DEPLOYMENTS, and choose FK200308.

Environmental sensor data collected by Falkor is archived at Rolling Deck to Repository.

Fluid Chemistry, CTD, Navigation and Eventlogger documentation collected by ROV Subastian is archived at Marine Geoscience Data Center.

Survey Bathymetry data is archived at AusSeaBed data portal.

Instructions on how to find the dataset:

Click on Layers in top menu. Select Map Layers > Elevation and Depth > Bathymetry – Survey > Cape Range Canyon Bathymetry 2020 64 m, then expand. Click ‘Add to Map’. Slide the Opacity bar from 0-100% to view change in coverage.

ADCP data has been processed and archived by UHDAS.

Species occurrence records from the Ningaloo Canyon have been published in the Atlas of Living Australia.

  • Post, A., Przeslawski, R., Huang, Z., Smith, D., Kirkendale, L. and N. Wilson. (2020). Gascoyne Marine Park - Post Survey Report, RV Falkor, FK200308.  Report filed by Geoscience Australia. 
  • Post, A., Przeslawski, R., Nanson, R., Siwabessy, J., Smith, D., Kirkendale, L., and Wilson, N. G. (2022). Modern Dynamics, Morphology and Habitats of Slope-confined Canyons on the Northwest Australian Margin. Marine Geology, 443, doi: 10.1016/j.margeo.2021.106694. [This article has been published as OPEN ACCESS].
  • Beaman, R., Picard, K., and Miller, A. (2022). RV Falkor Surveys in Australia 2020-2021. Oral Presentation and Conference Paper, Hydrospatial 2021 Conference, Australasian Hydrographic Society, Cairns, Australia. [Abstract and presentation are OPEN ACCESS].
  • Wilson, N., Kirkendale, L., Hosie, A., Moore, G., Rouse, G., Richards, Z., et. al. (2022). An Illustrated Guide to the Fauna of the Ningaloo CanyonsWestern Australian Museum. [The guide has been published as OPEN ACCESS].
  • Przeslawski, R. (2022). Broad distribution of spider-shaped lebensspuren along the Australian continental margin. Frontiers in Marine Science, doi: 10.3389/fmars.2022.1086193. [This article is published as OPEN ACCESS].
  • Final Expedition Report: Illuminating Biodiversity of the Ningaloo Canyons

In the News

Where I Work- Greg Rouse

Nature • August 13, 2020

Where I Work- Andrew Hosie 

Nature • May 28, 2020

The Wildest Animal News From 2020

The New York Times • December 23, 2020

The deep sea discoveries of 2020 are stunning

Mashable • December 23, 2020

2020’s top ocean news stories

Mongabay • December 21, 2020


Smithsonian Magazine • December 17, 2020

Deep Ocean Studies Unlock Hidden Secrets • July 31, 2020

Remote ocean research during COVID-19

CSIRO-Double Helix • June 18, 2020

Take a look at these amazing never-before-seen underwater creatures

In the Know Conservation • June 15, 2020

Raised from depths, a feast for the eyes

The Australian • June 6, 2020

Understanding the biodiversity of the Ningaloo Canyons in 4K

The Kid Should See This • May 27, 2020

Face to Face with Squat Lobsters

Nature • May 26, 2020

Spot on Science: 2020 Aquatic Update

IdeaStream • May 13, 2020

150-Foot Creature Discovered

BuzzFeed News • April 21, 2020

Ocean Wonders 🌀Siphonophores

Parley.TV • April 21, 2020

Nightly News

Channel 9 • April 21, 2020


GWN7 news • April 20, 2020

Drive with Richard Glover

ABC Radio • April 20, 2020

Hewan Terpanjang di Dunia Ditemukan di Perairan Australia

National Geographic Indonesia • April 20, 2020

Scientists in Australia Discover Enormous Worm-like Ocean Creature

The Great Courses Daily • April 19, 2020


Divernet • April 19, 2020

World’s longest sea creature found off Australian coast

Digital Journal • April 18, 2020

Längsta djuret fångat på bild

Havet • April 17, 2020

Tauchexpedition filmt eine 47-Meter-Qualle

Der Standard • April 16, 2020

Newsday Radio

BBC • April 16, 2020

Phát hiện động vật dài nhất hành tinh

Baoh Ha Tinh • April 16, 2020

This Might Be the Longest Creature Ever Seen in the Ocean

The New York Times • April 14, 2020

Descubren 30 nuevas especies submarinas en Australia

Muy Interesante • April 14, 2020

The longest animal ever discovered in the Indian Ocean

Tech Explorist • April 13, 2020


Yahoo Japan • April 13, 2020

The longest animal ever discovered in the Indian Ocean

Tech Explorist • April 13, 2020

Un Ovni marin découvert en Australie

Futura Planete • April 10, 2020

Alien-Like Sea Creature Could Be Longest Animal Ever Discovered

International Buisness Times • April 9, 2020

Giant Ocean Creature Looks like UFO

The Weather Channel • April 9, 2020

This Freaky Spiral Thing is Alive

Gizmodo • April 9, 2020

Stories worth watching 4/8/20

CNN 10 • April 8, 2020

Mærkeligt dyr i havet: 47 meter langt

Ekstra Bladet • April 8, 2020

Scientists Discover Giant String-Like Sea Creature

Medical Daily • April 8, 2020

Mysterious Sea Monster Thrills Researchers

Webby Feed • April 7, 2020

Mad Minute stories from April 7th

NBC KHQ 6 • April 7, 2020

Giant stringy creature

Bing • April 8, 2020

This sea creature looks like a beautiful flower

MSN GeoBeats  • March 22, 2020

Perth Researchers Head to Uncharted Waters

7NEWS Perth  • March 7, 2020

Illuminating the biodiversity of the Ningaloo Canyons

Western Australian Museum News • March 4, 2020