The Australian Antarctic Division project has captured a range of colourful sea creatures thriving under the Antarctic ice, AFP reported on Wednesday. Footage of “coconut-shaped sponges, dandelion-like worms, pink algae and spidery starfish” among other species was captured on a camera attached to a Remotely Operated Vehicle dispatched through a small hole drilled in the ice.
Australian Antarctic Division biologist Glenn Johnstone said, “This footage reveals a habitat that is productive, colourful, dynamic and full of a wide variety of biodiversity, including sponges, sea spiders, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars.” The discovery was made close to Australia’s Casey research station, where species are surviving in -1.5 degrees Celsius temperatures covered in 1.5 metres of sea ice for 10 months of the year.
Researchers are studying the impact of acidification on Southern Ocean sea-floor communities caused by rising carbon dioxide levels. Project leader Johnny Stark said ocean acidity levels increase as it absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Stark said, “So we expect these ecosystems to be among the first impacted from ocean acidification.”
The project leader said, “Occasionally an iceberg may move around and wipe out an unlucky community, but mostly the sea ice provides protection from the storms that rage above, making it a relatively stable environment in which biodiversity can flourish,” the news agency reported.