We undertook a biological data acquisition program as part of the transit of the R.V. Southern Surveyor between Darwin and Cairns 15-24 October 2012. The overarching aim of this program was to use an ROV and benthic sled to collect benthic marine information and specimens for biodiversity and biodiscovery research in areas previously mapped by Geoscience Australia during survey GA-276, including a bank (Area I) and terrace/hole feature within the proposed Wessel Islands CMR (Area II). This study focuses on sessile invertebrates such as sponges and octocorals due to their ecological importance as habitat providers and their chemical importance as sources of marine natural products and medicines.
In less than 24 hours of sampling effort, survey SS2012/t07 resulted in 261 voucher specimens which will be used for biodiversity and natural products research. A total of 49 samples are to be lodged at the ABL, and samples with weights larger than 300 g will be sent to the NCI for screening of active compounds against cancer and HIV. Sponges were the most abundant group collected based on both biomass (~ 139 kg) and number of voucher specimens (93), followed by cnidarians (30 kg, 73 vouchers), particularly hard corals (23 kg, 11 vouchers). As expected the top of the bank in Area I had a seemingly diverse and abundant sessile invertebrate community, with consistent patchy occurrence of sponges, octocorals, and hard corals. The terrace at in Area II supports moderate densities of sponges and octocorals, while the adjacent deep hole at ~ 100 m seems to be covered with muddy gravel and supports scattered mobile and sedentary invertebrates, of which crinoids dominate, as well as skates and numerous small demersal fish.