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Joint Statement by the Acting Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Joe Hockey, and Senator for Tasmania, Paul Calvert

12 January 2000


Stage one of the first research program to be conducted under Australia's $50 million Oceans Policy has provided clear images of parts of the seabed in Australia's south east marine region never before surveyed.

The AUSTREA 1 seabed mapping survey, which began off Lord Howe Island in December, has provided spectacular images of the seabed of Australia's continental slope and deep sea bed, including previously unknown volcanoes, and marine canyons and cliffs seen for the first time in detail.

The findings have been released today by the acting Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, the Hon Joe Hockey MP, and Tasmanian Senator Paul Calvert, representing the Minister for the Environment and Heritage and chairman of the National Oceans Ministerial Board, Senator Robert Hill.

The month-long survey is the first part of a cooperative seabed mapping program commissioned by the National Oceans Office.

The survey is being undertaken in collaboration with the Australian Geological Survey Organisation (AGSO) with total Federal Government funding of $1.9 million.

Speaking on board the research vessel L'Atalante at the Hobart docks, Senator Calvert said getting a glimpse of the remaining unexplored part of Australia's environment was a welcome start to 2000.

"This is Australia's Oceans Policy in action, and it is just the beginning," Senator Calvert said.

"There are vast areas within our marine jurisdiction about which we know little or nothing, but modern seabed survey techniques now provide us with some very powerful tools which we can apply to improve our understanding and provide a better basis on which to manage all of our ocean uses.

"The seabed surveys, using the multi-beam swath mapping technique, will provide important baseline data to support the development of a Regional Marine Plan for the south east marine region, being driven by the Hobart-based National Oceans Office.

"The data collected by AGSO scientists on board L'Atalante during AUSTREA 1 builds on information from past seabed survey and mapping programs and will contribute to constructing a much more complete picture of the seabed shape, character and biodiversity of Australia's southern seas."

Designed to complement existing seabed survey information, the AUSTREA 1 cruise has mapped the slopes of Lord Howe Island, the upper slope of the Bass Canyon off south east Victoria, the uppermost slope off south east and south west Tasmania, the volcanic seamounts south of Hobart, the Otway Basin off north west Tasmania and Victoria, and mapped the slope of the Great Australian Bight Marine Protected Area.

Additional data gathered by AGSO scientists during the voyage includes:

Mr Hockey said the release of the high-resolution seabed images reinforces Australia's position as a world leader in oceans planning and management.

"The results provide us with a more detailed understanding of parts of the seabed than we have ever had before and will significantly increase scientific understanding of Australia's offshore marine environment," Mr Hockey said.

"Using a multi-beam sonar system, this cruise has enabled us to map the sea bed water depths from 300 to 4,500 metres, expanding the area of detailed offshore mapping by the size of Tasmania.

"While there are large expanses of the deep seabed under Australian jurisdiction yet to be surveyed, we now have some very detailed images of most of the seabed of the southeastern continental slope. With additional work on the structure of the seabed and below, and with dedicated sampling programs we can determine a great deal about its history, nature and character.

"This survey builds on previous seabed survey work by AGSO and is a tangible and important result of the Federal Government's commitment to an improved scientific base for oceans planning and management. The implementation of Regional Marine Plans, developed with the assistance of the AUSTREA 1 data, will guide Australia's integrated approach to marine management.

"Australia's Oceans Policy and the Marine Science and Technology Plan provide a world-leading framework on which to build a sustainable ocean future.

"The AUSTREA 1 data was collected from 18 December 1999 to 11 January 2000, aboard the state of the art French research vessel L'Atalante. The vessel will again host AGSO scientists later this month for the second phase of the AUSTREA cruise, to extend Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone to the south of Macquarie Island and map part of the Macquarie Island Marine Park," he said.

Approximately $700, 000 was committed in 1999 by the Federal Government to conduct swath surveys supporting Australia's claims to areas of continental shelf south of Macquarie Island. An additional $1.2 million has been committed for the implementation of Australia's Oceans Policy including seabed surveys in other parts of the Southeast Region, in the waters off South Australia, Victoria, southern new South Wales and Tasmania, Lord Howe and Macquarie Island.

Australia's Oceans Policy is the first, comprehensive national plan to protect and manage Australia's oceans.

Mathew Abbott (Mr Hockey's office) 02 6277 7230
Brendan Bromeley (Senator Calvert's office) 03 6244 8533 or 0408 354 684
Peter Hill (Chief Scientist of AUSTREA 1 cruise) 0407 008 799
Gordon Anderson (National Oceans Office) 03 6221 5009
Dr Neville Exon (AGSO Research Group Leader, Seabed Mapping) 02 6249 9347
Heather Wallace (AGSO Public Affairs) 02 6249 9511

Commonwealth of Australia