Within Australia’s largest marine reserve, the recently established Coral Sea Marine Park, lies the Queensland Plateau, one of the world’s largest continental margin plateaus at nearly 300,000 square kilometers. The plateau contains 30 large coral atolls including the famed Osprey Reef, Lihou Reef, and Diamond Islets. Here a wide variety of reef systems range from large atolls and long banks to shallow coral pinnacles. Virtually unmapped and mostly unexplored beyond the shallower parts of these reefs, Dr. Robin Beaman, James Cook University, and a team of scientists from Geoscience Australia, The University of Sydney, and the Queensland Museum will work remotely with R/V Falkor to conduct unprecedented mapping and exploration of the Queensland Plateau. The expedition will provide insight into the geological evolution and biodiversity of Australia’s marine frontier.
Preliminary mapping of the Queensland Plateau suggests the presence of many enigmatic seabed features, including numerous drowned reef pinnacles and long meandering channels on the plateau surface. The team aims to completely map, in detail, the steeper reef flanks using high-resolution multibeam mapping, and also target these enigmatic seabed features. The ROV dives will help to determine the extent and depth of coral bleaching. Another mass bleaching event recently took place that resulted in scientists finding more than half of the coral reefs bleached beyond the Great Barrier Reef in early March. This expedition will provide an opportunity to look at the mesophotic or deeper reef to see how extensive the bleaching is, and if these reefs could act as a potential refugia for the Great Barrier Reef.