Ashmore Reef Marine Park is home to unique coral ecosystems: Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs). While the waters of Australia are famous for shallower coral systems such as the Great Barrier Reef, MCEs there (and around the globe) remain largely unknown and undocumented. MCEs exist at depths between 30-150m, and recently their study has become possible due to technological advancements. MCEs are hypothesized to have significant ecological importance, including the potential to reseed shallow water corals under environmental stress. The ability of MCEs to provide a refuge for shallow-water species appears critically important, as shallow reef corals face a range of stressors including a changing climate. However, little is known about MCE community structure, what ocean processes control MCE composition, geographic distribution, and their connectivity to other coral systems.
Few conservation efforts have focused on mesophotic reefs, but these ecosystems are also challenged with anthropogenic and natural stressors. The more researchers have learned about MCE’s, the more it appears imperative to advocate for their protection. Scientists aboard the R/V Falkor will address important knowledge gaps in understanding MCEs as well as lay a foundation for effective future monitoring and protection of MCEs across the globe.
Sampling and studies of MCEs in Australia are difficult to undertake without dedicated effort from remotely operated vessels. This expedition will mark the first time an ROV and AUV will be used to collect MCE specimens for genetic analysis and reproductive studies. These samples will provide exciting new insight into how individual MCE’s are related, as well as establish a baseline knowledge of community structure and reproductive strategies within MCE. Ecosystems in the northwest continental shelf of Australia, including Ashmore Reef, face a myriad of anthropogenic and natural impacts, therefore recognizing what species exist, how they are maintained, and what physical processes drive MCEs will be extremely important first steps for conservation.
More information on the research cruise page.