Sampling the abyss

World-first survey of deep water life from abyssal depths along Australia’s eastern continental margin.
Voyage No


15 May, 2017


16 Jun, 2017

Bell Bay (Tasmania)



Chief Scientist

Dr Tim O'Hara


Museums Victoria

Voyage summary

Research voyage to undertake a world-first survey of Australia's eastern abyss and increase understanding of abyssal marine life.

Australia’s eastern abyss is a largely unexplored habitat with only sparse information about the marine life that is found there.The extreme depths and remoteness of this environment mean study is difficult and highly challenging. For the first time, Australia has a research vessel in RV Investigator that delivers the capability to sample the abyssal environment down to depths of 4,000 m and beyond.

The primary objective of this voyage is to describe deep sea life at these depths and understand how it is distributed along the east coast of Australia.The project has a particular focus on the Commonwealth Marine Reserves (CMR), which include large areas of unexplored deep water habitat.

Specimens and data collected from this voyage will lead to better understanding of the abyssal environment, its biodiversity, and the ecological processes that sustain it. This knowledge is vital for the effective conservation and management of these remote and unique areas.

Voyage blog: Are tropical holidays bad for your evolution?

It turns out that the cold doesn’t make everything shrink, for some things it might actually help them grow! New research reverses ideas about ocean biodiversity revealing that species are actually evolving fastest in Antarctica. And you might even say the answer was written in the stars. The research has just been published in Nature and uses data collected during 2017’s pioneering ‘Sampling the Abyss‘ voyage which was led by Museums Victoria aboard our research vessel Investigator.
Read more on CSIROscope
A kaleidoscope of brittle stars collected from the abyss

Voyage impact

The voyage was an outstanding success and obtained animal samples from a south-north transect along the east coast of Australia, primarily from depths of 2500 m and 4000 m. Sampling equipment and cameras were used to collect and photograph representative fauna from microbes to fish, revealing a weird and wonderful variety of creatures from abyssal depths.

As a result, researchers have a better understanding of how Australian deep-sea animals are distributed across the seafloor, in particular, animals that live in the Commonwealth Marine Reserves.

Specimens collected are now housed in the collections at Museums Victoria, CSIRO and other Australian state museums. These collections offer an important resources for future reference and study. The voyage also produced high quality seafloor maps of much of the the continental margin from Tasmania to southern Queensland, including extensive areas of Commonwealth Marine Reserves.